What will future 5G smartphones look like

No sooner had the wraps been taken off the first 5G-compatible smartphones last month did the industry’s attention turn to the next wave of devices.

Samsung, Oppo, Huawei, LG and Xiaomi were among the manufacturers to show off handsets at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, hoping to capture early adopters eager for the enhanced mobile broadband services afforded by 5G.

But the mobile industry is characterised by constant change, as evidenced by the discussions at the show. Qualcomm detailed its second generation 5G modem, the Snapdragon X55, while analysts talked about when 5G smartphones would become a mainstream segment. Others wondered when Apple would throw its hat into the ring.

However, the long-term view is optimistic. Experts believe the standardisation of 5G Release-15 late last year, along with the advent of the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 modem chip, has put the industry on a solid foundation for adoption.

“Many of the handsets you’re seeing [at MWC] are because of the great work Qualcomm did last year,” says Shaun Collins from CCS Insight. “We expect 5G to get very big, very quickly and it will be at least as big as 4G which was the fastest adoption of any mobile technology ever. Much like 4G, once you get it, you won’t be able to live without it.”

Adoption will of course depend on how operators choose to price 5G. Some, like EE, have suggested a premium of a few pounds is realistic, but some research indicates that although consumers recognise the benefits of 5G, they are unwilling to pay for it.

For operators banking on 5G to deliver new sources of income, this is concerning. But the fact is that 5G will reduce the cost-per-bit and new applications in the business and consumer markets will help drive adoption and revenues.

Collins says it is unlikely operators will charge a “like-for-like” premium for 5G, with additional revenues secured from expanded connectivity and service packages. 5G devices, and what they are capable of, will have a huge impact on adoption.