Qualcomm: First 5G Smartphones Coming Mid-2019

Qualcomm is now predicting that the first 5G smartphones will arrive on the market in 2019 but they will come with a feature that may surprise some: a constant connection to a 4G LTE network.

"We are targeting for 5G NR smartphones by the middle of 2019," Sherif Hanna, senior manager for the technical marketing of Snapdragon modems at Qualcomm, told Light Reading in New York City Tuesday. NR, by the way, refers to the 5G New Radio specification from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) . (See 3GPP Approves Plans to Fast Track 5G NR.)

Qualcomm unveiled its first 5G modem -- the X50 -- in October 2016. The silicon is expected to start sampling to phone makers in the second half of 2017, with device trials starting in 2018. (See Oh Snap! Qualcomm Unveils X50, Its First 5G Modem.)

Qualcomm says that 5G "dual connectivity" with 4G LTE is part of the 5G specification. But why would 5G phones need a persistent 4G connection baked into the spec?

It is because of the high-band millimeter wave (mmWave) connections planned to be used in Japan, South Korea and the US. These 28GHz and 39GHz connections can deliver extremely high data rates -- 1 Gbit/s and up -- over short ranges but are susceptible to atmospheric conditions and more. For instance, Qualcomm -- and, no doubt, many other vendors -- will be looking into how a user's hand might block a 28GHz signal in the real world.

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on
Light Reading.

So, an always-on LTE connection, which could be delivering gigabit downloads by the time 5G comes on the scene anyway, is the insurance policy that keeps a user online even if the mmWave signal drops.

This differs from the way 4G LTE was implemented on smartphones. 4G can "fall back" to 3G for voice calls and data connections, but the phone switches between the connections.

Dual connectivity will -- of course -- bring its own issues to the world of next-gen smartphones. Top of the list is probably how much power running two radios together will require.

This is something we're likely to get a clearer picture on as 5G test devices arrive in 2018.

See this demo video from Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) for a demo of dual connectivity:

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

COMMENTS Add Comment
kq4ym 4/24/2017 | 11:43:30 AM
Re: early adopter? It does seem that because of transmission issues at those small wavelenghts there will have to be a "backup" i.e. 4G to cope with those problems. Maybe when antenna designs and power issues are improved that reliance on 4G might go away?
DanJones 4/17/2017 | 1:19:28 PM
Re: More hype than reality Well how do you suggest that the mmwave range issues be dealt with otherwise?
WilliamofOccam 4/17/2017 | 1:03:45 PM
More hype than reality 5G with LTE is not a new concept since dual connectivity was specified way back in Release 12 (around 2012). Since it did not take off then (for many reasons including the need to provide back-end connectivity between eNBs, improved core network performance, mobile power consumption etc.), it is not at all clear that this is the best way forward for 5G. I guess time will tell...

DanJones 4/10/2017 | 1:01:38 PM
Re: early adopter? A decade at the very least would be my guess.
danielcawrey 4/8/2017 | 4:51:44 PM
Re: early adopter? I'm not surprised to see 4G will be baked in as well. Expect that to persist for some time if you ask me. As much as 5G offers promise, it's not like it will be ubiquitous anytime soon. Handsets still have to be prepared to connect on lower speeds at all times to offer premium wireless service. 
mendyk 4/8/2017 | 3:43:41 PM
Re: early adopter? But it leads in blindly loyal adherents. So if it slaps a 5G label on a phone, those people will buy it, whether or not it actually works.
DanJones 4/8/2017 | 10:01:51 AM
Re: early adopter? Apple doesn't tend to lead in raw wireless tech.
mendyk 4/7/2017 | 2:45:12 PM
Re: early adopter? If it has an Apple logo on it, the lines of "early adopters" will be visible from space.
DanJones 4/7/2017 | 1:06:57 PM
early adopter? So who is going to buy a 5G phone in 2019?
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