When 5G phones come in 2019, they won't nuke your battery. The 5G transition will be less painful than the 3G/4G switch, so you won't have to wait for second-gen phones to get decent battery life, Qualcomm said today at its Snapdragon Summit.
5G promises a lot of new experiences, but smartphone users will initially be most interested in the 5-10x boost in both upload and download speeds, Qualcomm's Peter Carson said. To get there, 5G networks will need to use "millimeter wave" frequencies, which can transmit a lot of data but don't have a lot of range.
He also had a lot of faith in wireless carriers to extend unlimited data plans to 5G. The new network will "change the economics," delivering a lot of cheap capacity to carriers and "feeding the demand for unlimited data plans," he said.
If you remember Verizon's first 4G LTE phones, well, they were pretty rough. The 4G LTE data network didn't interact well with the 3G CDMA network, and the LTE modems sucked down battery life like nobody's business. The HTC Thunderbolt was a fast smartphone to be sure, but had lousy battery life.
But 5G networks will initially rely on 4G for their control layers, Qualcomm's Peter Carson said, defaulting to 4G but jumping up to 5G only when they need faster speeds or lower latency. That means the 5G radio will be dormant, rather than actively listening most of the time, which saves a lot of battery.
Steps On the Way
5G buildouts may also come faster than you might think, given how many tiny cells need to be installed for a millimeter-wave 5G network. At their fastest frequencies, 5G networks don't have very much range; the cells probably won't reach more than 500 feet to mobile devices.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
That's where Licensed Assisted Access (LAA)—a way for wireless carriers to transmit LTE over Wi-Fi frequencies—comes in. All US carriers except Sprint are currently starting to roll out LAA in congested, urban areas. Carson pointed out that a 1:1 overlay of LAA cells with millimeter-wave 5G will have 80 percent of the LAA coverage. Ultimately, it'll require doubling the cell count even from LAA to achieve the same coverage with millimeter-wave 5G, Carson says, which will take a long while.
It'll be a Swiss-Cheesy network, full of holes, but with the LAA enabling gigabit LTE, you may not be able to tell the difference between "weak" 5G and LAA-assisted 4G LTE at the edge of the LAA cells.
That's another key difference between the 4G/5G transition and the 3G/4G transition, Carson said. Carriers and chipmakers are thinking of 5G as integrating 4G, 3G, and even 2G and Wi-Fi. With Qualcomm's X20 modem, part of the Snapdragon 845 chipset likely to appear in the Samsung Galaxy S9, US 4G networks could peak at 1.2Gbps with LAA. The boundary between 4G and 5G speeds will be further blurred by T-Mobile's 600MHz 5G network, which (because of the frequency it's using) will have great coverage, but probably won't offer the multi-gigabit speeds of millimeter-wave 5G.
When you get your 5G-compatible phone, likely in 2019, it'll have what feels like very fast 4G and dramatic bursts of speed in key locations, which will get more common over time.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe