Earlier this year, US carrier AT&T caught heat (and is getting sued) for displaying “5G E” connectivity on some of its phones, including iPhones. This is despite the fact that its network technology remains unchanged from 4G. For its part, AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan defended the company, saying he’s proud that AT&T “broke” the industry’s narrative, whatever that means.
While AT&T’s actions are wholly misleading, it’s understandable why the company wants to get a jump on 5G. 5G is the latest generation of cellular tech that will connect users to a super fast mobile network, and it’s nearly upon us. The biggest initial wave of 5G deployment will likely take place this year and throughout 2020, and carriers everywhere are laying the infrastructure necessary to roll out a faster and more expansive wireless network.
While it’s true that many industries will benefit from faster connectivity — self-driving cars, drones and the internet of things, to name a few — most people will likely experience the benefits of a robust 5G network only through a 5G-enabled phone. After all, the grand promises Qualcomm and carriers are making with 5G coverage don’t mean much if you can’t access the network with your own device.
Since the beginning of this year, many phone-makers unveiled their upcoming 5G phones. Samsung was one of the first to introduce its Galaxy S10 5G at its Unpacked event in February, and many others have followed that up with their own announcements at the MWC 2019 conference.
To help you keep tabs on when we can expect 5G phones — with real 5G connectivity — here’s what the major phone-makers have announced, and what they haven’t announced, about their 5G phone plans so far.
Apple’s in no rush to launch a 5G iPhone — don’t expect one this year or maybe even 2020. Save for abandoning the headphone jack (the iPhone 7 was one of the first phones to lack one), Apple usually isn’t the first in on mobile trends, preferring instead to perfect an emerging technology before committing to it. For example, it was behind its competitors in making phones with 3G and 4G LTE connectivity when those networks just launched. Furthermore, Intel company executives said that Intel won’t have 5G modem chips until 2020 (Apple uses Intel chips in its iPhones).
That doesn’t mean it’s not altogether ignoring 5G.
Apple did not respond for a request to comment.
Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G phone, unveiled during Unpacked, has a 6.7-inch display, three rear cameras and the ability to wirelessly charge other devices. In the US the phone will launch on Verizon first in the second quarter, then head to AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. Though no exact price was given, it’s expected to cost between $1,000 and $1,980.
But the Galaxy S10 5G won’t be the only 5G phone from Samsung. Its foldable Galaxy Fold will have a 5G variant too. And AT&T announced it will carry additional Samsung 5G phones by the second half of 2019 (no word yet on the specific devices though).
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Google hasn’t revealed its plans for 5G, and the company declined to reply to a request to comment. What we do know is that Verizon said it’s planning to roll out its 5G network in early 2019, similar to other carriers.
What does that have to do with Google exactly? For the past few years, Google has tapped Verizon as its exclusive carrier partner for its Pixel phones, including the new Pixel 3, though the company also sells the phone unlocked or on its Wi-Fi-first network, Google Fi.
This could mean that Google’s next flagship, presumably called the Pixel 4, could be a 5G phone. If it sticks with its usual phone launch schedule, the Pixel 4 would debut around October 2019 — well after the first half of the year.
At MWC this year, LG revealed the V50 ThinQ 5G. As expected, the phone will be available in the US through Sprint. (LG first confirmed this in August 2018 when it revealed that it was developing a 5G phone). The V50 will also be Sprint’s first 5G phone but it will also be made available on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, T-Mobile and AT&T later in the year. (Sprint is expected to merge with T-Mobile soon, a move that carrier speed analyst Ookla said “could result in an unmatched network in the face of 5G.”)
The phone features a 6.4-inch OLED display, three rear cameras that include a wide-angle and telephoto lens, the Snapdragon 855 chipset and two front-facing cameras. It can also attach to a Dual Screen accessory that increases the phone’s display size.
Last August, Lenovo unveiled the Motorola Moto Z3, a phone that has 5G — kind of. It only connects to 5G with a Moto Mod modular accessory, which attaches to the back of the phone using magnetic pins. With the Mod, Motorola says the phone will deliver data 10 times faster than other 4G LTE devices. Unfortunately, the Mod is supposed to come out early next year, and we don’t know how much it will cost.
As for a Motorola phone that wouldn’t need an accessory to connect to 5G, the company is working on making such a device, but you’ll have to wait much longer. Doug Michau, Motorola Mobility’s director of technical sales and operations, said that phone would come much later than early 2019. More specifically, Michau said it would launch in “definitely less than three years, but no time frame yet.”
Adopting the two hottest phone trends of 5G speeds and foldable displays, Huawei announced the Mate X at MWC 2019. The device has a 6.6-inch display when folded closed, and and 8-inch OLED screen when you flip it open. It also features a 4,500-mAh battery and three rear cameras. The Mate X is scheduled to launch in the middle of the year and will cost a whopping 2,300 euros (about $2,600).
The phone won’t come to the US though. Calling it a security threat to the Department of Defense, the US government banned the sale of Huawei phones on US military bases. Retail giant Best Buy stopped selling them in March 2018 and Huawei’s CFO was arrested in Canada at the request of the US in an act her father said was politically motivated. Italy also wants to ban the company from supplying 5G equipment.
That doesn’t necessarily spell the end of Huawei and its 5G ambitions, though. “Our products and solutions are used by major carriers, Fortune 500 companies and hundreds of millions of consumers in more than 170 countries around the world,” a Huawei spokesman said last March. “We have earned the trust of our partners across the global value chain.”
OnePlus gave us a limited peek at a prototype of its first 5G phone at MWC 2019. The phone will sell on the UK carrier EE’s 5G network, which will span 16 cities in 2019, starting with London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester.
The 5G phone is due out by 2019 and it’ll run on the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset. The phone also wouldn’t be part of OnePlus’s main flagship lineup. Instead, it would be a separate phone that would be specifically built to take advantage of the high-speed network. Don’t expect it to hit Verizon anytime soon, but do expect it to cost more than previous OnePlus phones.
Though Nokia isn’t the phone giant that it was 15 years ago, it’s still taking steps toward a 5G future. In July, the brand announced a $3.5 billion partnership with T-Mobile, which includes taking advantage of T-Mobile’s 600MHz spectrum to back its 5G network. 5G phones from this partnership are expected in 2019.
Nokia also stands to benefit from 5G in other ways. In addition to Qualcomm and Ericsson, the company has patent rights to 5G technology, and stands to make up to $3.50 for every 5G smartphone sold.
Taiwanese electronics company HTC also had something 5G-related to show off at MWC. Instead of a phone though, it was a 5G hotspot. Available on Sprint, the hub connects up to 20 people simultaneously. Equipped with a 5-inch display, audio speakers and Android Pie software, the device is also a media hub that users can make video calls with or use to check mail.
One of ZTE’s latest phone is the Axon 10 Pro 5G. It’s equipped with a Snapdragon 855 processor and has a fingerprint scanner embedded in its screen. On the back are three cameras that have AI capabilities, including scene recognition. The rear setup includes a wide-angle camera, a standard lens and a third telephoto camera. For your selfie shots, the front of the phone has a 20-megapixel camera.
In February ZTE said it was aiming to have 5G phones off the ground in either late 2018 or early 2019, but followed that up with a “late 2019” prediction. Currently, ZTE is working with eight international carriers to roll out 5G testing. While the future of ZTE in the US is up in the air due to a recent (now lifted) ban on its phones because the company violated trade sanctions, the Axon 10 Pro will at least be available in the first half of this year in Europe and China.
Chinese phone-maker Xiaomi remixed its Mi Mix 3 with a new 5G model. Aptly named Mi Mix 3 5G, the phone costs 599 euros (about $679) and will launch in May. It’s unlikely that the phone will be available in the US. The company’s initial 5G network partners include many European carriers, including Orange, Sunrise, Telefonica, Three, TIM and Vodafone.
The phone itself features 6.39-inch AMOLED display, a Snapdragon 845 processor and dual 12-megapixel rear cameras. Calling it “almost the perfect phone,” CNET editor Aloysius Low also mentioned that it’s neither water resistant nor do its front-facing cameras have secure 3D face unlocking.
Showing off a prototype at MWC, OnePlus’ sister company Oppo said it plans to release a 5G phone this year. The device will contain a Snapdragon 855 chipset, and it will be based on the Oppo Find X phone. When it was released last year, we considered the Find X to be one of the best phones of 2018. It feature a unique pop-up camera, a beautiful design and fast charging.
Though it’s unlikely to come to the US, the 5G version is scheduled for release some time between April and June. Oppo is working with four carriers (Swisscom, Australia’s Telstra and Optus, as well as Singtel in Singapore) to launch the phone. It’s also partnering with China Mobile to sell the phone later this summer.
Originally published Oct. 23, 2018, and updated whenever 5G news and devices are announced.
I used the Huawei Mate X and now I’m a believer: Foldable phones aren’t just about the price tag.
Mobile World Congress 2019: Complete coverage of the world’s biggest phone show.
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