Switching to 5G likely to be fastest yet - IHS Markit

Claims that maturity of technology will mean 5G will be available to consumers sooner.
5G, Tech, Society, Culture, Future

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The transition to 5G communications is likely to be faster than any previous generation of wireless technology, according to IHS Markit.

The market research company says that while there is a lot of pre-launch hype, mobile phone manufacturers are better prepared and are rolling out 5G-ready handsets at a faster pace than before.

"It is easy to paint the current momentum behind 5G as the usual pre-launch hype drummed up by vested stakeholders," said Wayne Lam, principle analyst for IHS Markit and lead author of the white paper. "However, the mobile industry is fundamentally better prepared and more aligned with a common standard than at any previous technology transition."

The company said that this generation of upgrade lacks the uncertainty that would normally discourage companies from making big investments in technology that is not proven or when there are competing standards. While past wireless technology upgrades had competing standards vying for industry attention, there is no doubt about the air interface standard that will be used for 5G.

"The 5G electronic ecosystem is significantly more mature, at this point, compared to the same time during the LTE transition," Lam said. "Key 5G chipsets have been tested, proven and designed into devices, and the industry is now poised to deliver their first 5G smartphone in early 2019."

"As telecom companies embark on the start of another wireless generation transition, they are doing so with a robust and coordinated ecosystem of carriers, handset makers and component suppliers," Lam said. "By and large, the industry is finding itself with an unprecedented opportunity to execute a wireless transition in the best position possible."

IHS Markit notes in a new report that in the 4G rollout, there was confusion over which air interface, which provides the connection within the handset, would be predominant. This confusion also led to fragmentation of the mobile chipset market, forcing OEMs and chipset vendors to spend precious R&D efforts on their modem solution to compete for 4G standards.

However, with the 5G transition, the value of the merchant mobile chipset vendor is well understood and, led by companies like Qualcomm, have created complete solutions to address not only the modem needs but also the increasingly complex RF Front End (RFFE). The RFFE is often an overlooked technology enabler but is critical for OEMs to adopt the new standards quickly. Qualcomm's complete modem to antenna solution means that an OEM can go to market faster with a device focusing on differentiate feature sets outside of the radio system.

In the 4G rollout, early designs used a range of chipsets, which led to variable results, and once the OEMs converged on a standard, there were supply problems. Initially only high-end handsets had LTE compatibility, until economies of scale caught up.

In contrast, the 5G electronic ecosystem is significantly more mature, the company says. Key 5G chipsets have been tested, proven and designed into devices by OEMs with the industry poised to deliver their first 5G smartphone in early 2019.

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