Android App Developers Get '5G Mode'

A new API from Qualcomm promises to give Android Q app developers information about how fast users' 5G phones will go. But don't expect a 5G 'killer app' anytime soon.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

May 17, 2019

4 Min Read
Android App Developers Get '5G Mode'

Hunting season for 5G's killer app is officially open.

Qualcomm said it will expose 5G download speed data to Android app developers through the new Android Q operating system. The move will let Android app developers know exactly how fast a connection users have, which could potentially allow those developers to build services or entire applications specific to 5G networks.

"All this goes back to the search for the killer application for 5G," explained Ignacio Contreras, director of 5G product marketing for Qualcomm.

Specifically, Qualcomm is inserting an algorithm into its new X55 modem for 5G networks that will be able to estimate the average download connection speed available to the device. That information will be transmitted from the modem into Google's new Android Q operating system, where it can be accessed by Android app developers in the "Connectivity Manager" element of the operating system.

Francesco Grilli, Qualcomm's VP of product management, explained that such information could allow developers to create a "5G mode" for their apps -- for example, they could stream video at a higher resolution or offer a two-player option in a video game when 5G speeds are available.

Grilli said Qualcomm outlined the new 5G application programming interface (API) during a session at Google's recent developer conference, where Google took the wraps off of Android Q, the latest version of Google's market-leading smartphone operating system, to be released later this year. Grilli said attendees at the three-hour session discussed multiple potential applications for the API. For example, one developer from South Korea said 5G could support a restaurant-review service where the reviewer could make a video presentation about the restaurant, and then subsequent visitors to the restaurant could view an augmented reality version of the video, overlaid on top of the actual location. Grilli said such services can't be powered by today's LTE networks.

Qualcomm's new 5G API for Android is one of the first clear bridges between the 5G industry and the wider community of smartphone app developers. That's critical, considering 5G proponents continue to argue that, like 4G networks did during the past decade, 5G will enable all kinds of new and innovative services that have never been seen before. Although various 5G players have been working to rally developers and startups around the 5G opportunity -- Verizon for example is offering $1 million to fund new 5G-powered technological developments -- Qualcomm's new API represents a broadly accessible link between everyday app developers and 5G.

However, there are plenty of caveats regulating the new 5G API for Android Q. Most importantly, Qualcomm's Grilli explained that the algorithm that collects and transmits download connection speed information from the company's modem into Android won't tell developers whether a 5G connection is available, only what the average connection speed is. Grilli said 5G connections will be much faster than 4G connections, but developers won't be able to tell exactly what kind of network technology the phone is accessing. Grilli said Qualcomm already provides LTE download speed information to Android through its modems, and is now adding 5G speed information through the new algorithm.

Moreover, Grilli said download speed is just one bit information that Qualcomm hopes to eventually pass on to Android developers. He said in the future the company could also tell developers what kind of latency is available or what kind of uplink speed is available.

Such information could also be made available to iOS developers when Apple releases a 5G iPhone, though Apple is the only company that could make that happen.

Another caveat to Qualcomm's 5G API efforts in Android is that compatible devices will likely be few and far between, at least initially. Qualcomm just announced its X55 modem in February, which means that phones using the chip won't hit the market until the end of this year at the earliest. Qualcomm's X55 modem is an update to the company's first 5G modem, the X50, released in 2016.

Moreover, Qualcomm's API won't work on 5G devices running chips from other providers like Samsung.

According to a recent report from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), there are around 48 announced 5G devices from 26 different vendors, with the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G as perhaps the most noteworthy.

Other information currently available to Android developers in the Connection Manager portion of the OS is whether users are on a metered data plan -- such information is obviously critical for developers to know so they can avoid transmitting excessive amounts of data.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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