January 14, 2021
Samsung on Thursday took the wraps off its new Galaxy S21 flagship phones. The gadgets are important because Samsung is the world's largest maker of smartphones and has been the leading vendor for 5G devices. Plus, the Galaxy S-line of phones is Samsung's premier offering.
Samsung's latest phones feature all kinds of fancy technologies and functions – OLED screens, Snapdragon 888 CPUs, at least 8 GB of RAM and plenty of other acronyms – that have been exhaustively outlined by gadget-focused publications like The Verge and Cnet. However, the phones are also significant for the 5G industry for these five reasons:
1. They're $200 cheaper than previous versions.
The initial batch of 5G phones from Samsung and others were searingly expensive. Indeed, most 5G smartphones during 2019 cost more than $1,000. Samsung itself pushed that ceiling up to $2,000 with its first Galaxy Fold.
During 2020, though, 5G phone prices began to fall back down to Earth. For example, the Google Pixel 4A 5G costs just $500.
That's why Samsung's new Galaxy prices are important: The S21 costs just $800, while the S21+ costs $1,000 and the S21 Ultra costs $1,200. Samsung previously charged $1,000, $1,200 and $1,400 for the S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra, respectively.
"Competitive pricing will play an integral role in shaping 5G development," IDC analyst Sangeetika Srivastava said in a recent statement. "The COVID-19 crisis has influenced consumer behavior by tilting it toward more budget-friendly devices and narrowing the spend for essentials only."
2. They support the C-band.
As PCMag reported, Samsung's new phones support 5G in C-band spectrum for the US market. As the publication notes, the only FCC-certified phones that support this spectrum band are Samsung's new Galaxy S21 phones and Apple's new iPhone 12 phones.
The importance of this spectrum band cannot be overstated. The FCC is currently auctioning C-band spectrum in the US, and the winners are expected to be announced sometime in late February or early March. The auction is clearly winding down, but gross proceeds in the event have topped $80 billion. That's almost double the FCC's previous record-holder, the $45 billion AWS-3 spectrum auction in 2015.
The astounding amount of cash service providers are throwing at C-band licenses highlight their value: Operators that purchase C-band spectrum are expected to deploy widespread 5G networks capable of supporting speeds up to 1 Gbit/s.
Thus, Samsung and Apple are helping to seed the market with C-band devices, ensuring that customers who purchase those gadgets will be able to tap into those kinds of speeds when C-band networks begin to pop up starting in late 2021 or early 2022.
3. The S21 Ultra can work with Wi-Fi 6E.
The Wi-Fi industry is pushing the "Wi-Fi 6E" brand for devices that can work in the newly freed 6GHz band and support the industry's Wi-Fi 6 transmission standard. That 6GHz band is expected to support blazing-fast Wi-Fi connections thanks to the whopping 1,200MHz of spectrum in the band the FCC allocated to unlicensed operations like Wi-Fi in 2020.
Of course, Wi-Fi is different from 5G. So why should the 5G industry care about the fact that the S21 Ultra supports Wi-Fi 6E?
It's because of the new 5G NR standard, which supports 5G transmissions in unlicensed spectrum bands like 6GHz. Deploying this technology will allow 5G operators to add extra capacity into their 5G networks working in licensed spectrum bands by essentially gluing 6GHz transmissions into their existing operations.
In fact, Verizon has already floated a proposal at the FCC to allow higher-powered 5G operations in the unlicensed 6GHz band. Verizon and other US operators already operate this kind of technology in the unlicensed 5GHz band thanks to the LAA standard for their 4G operations.
The combination of C-band and 6GHz support will ensure that Samsung's newest phones will be able to make the most out of 5G networks.
4. They aren't that exciting.
The S21 Ultra can support Samsung's digital S Pen. All of Samsung's new phones support the company's new SmartTag Bluetooth tracking service. And they all also sport a 120Hz display and a dynamic refresh rate.
And those are the biggest highlights. Meaning, by and large, Samsung's three new phones aren't much different from last year's models.
Unlike the early days of the smartphone industry, when customers struggled to upgrade their device every year or two in order to keep up with new features and functions, today's smartphones mostly offer only minor iterations.
This situation could entice 4G phone users to hold onto their existing devices a little longer.
5. They're being promoted by operators.
For example, Verizon said current customers can save $600 on a new Galaxy S21 phone with a trade-in. Meanwhile, T-Mobile said new and existing customers can get the Samsung Galaxy S21 for free when trading in an eligible device.
To be clear, the devil is always in the details when it comes to these kinds of promotions. However, they're relatively aggressive, and indicate that operators like Verizon and T-Mobile are keen to get new and existing customers to purchase Samsung's newest devices.
This comes as no surprise from a 5G perspective because operators want to move customers onto 5G networks because those networks in general are more efficient and speedy than 3G and 4G networks.
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