Development of 5G products and network has been ongoing in the past years. And the commercialization of 5G is expected to roll out in 2019, with 5G telecom services to be planned in the United States, South Korea, Japan, and China, etc. The arrival of 5G smartphones will also be in the spotlight this year. According to TrendForce’s latest report, Android smartphone brands, such as Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, OPPO, Vivo, and One Plus, all have a chance to launch 5G smartphones in 2019. However, the production volume of 5G models would only be 5 million units this year, a penetration rate of 0.4%, since the construction of 5G related infrastructure has not been fully completed.
With emerging demand for higher bandwidth and faster connection, branded smartphone makers have actively invested in the development of 5G devices to take initiatives in the market, although 5G base stations for commercial communication has not been widespread. Particularly, Android brands have been the early adopters, marking 2019 as the first year for 5G smartphones.
In terms of the specs upgrade in 5G smartphones, there are two major improvements. First, the application processor must be paired with 5G modem. Second, there will be extra peripheral components including Wi-Fi module and PA module in order to enhance the phone reception and performance of the signal filter. The addition of these components will not only make the phones larger and thicker, but also increase the components costs sharply. For example, according to TrendForce’s calculation, the BOM costs of flagship 5G smartphones would increase by 20%-30%.
As for the design of mobile phone antennas, beamforming technology is applied to improve the communication quality, because 5G systems operate in millimeter wave frequency band, and the attenuation of high frequency communication may influence the quality. The biggest challenge at present is the thermal dissipation in the RF front-end. The components will generate much heat and consume the power of phones when working in high frequency circuits. Therefore, a key focus in the design of RF front-end will be how to solve the heat dissipation problem through choosing the right materials for phone cases, and to maintain good performance in a high temperature environment.
For mobile phone cases, metal materials may interfere with the signal, so glass or plastic materials are the most possible alternatives so far. However, 5G is expected to be a selling point for flagship models, so there may be little chance that plastic cases are adopted. On the other hand, in order to meet the requirements of high-speed transmission for 5G, it is necessary to reduce the interference of metal cover, so the borders are bound to be narrower in the future, which requires more advanced manufacturing technology of 3D glass cases and higher yields of assembly, etc.
TrendForce notes that a widespread 5G architecture is also necessary to make 5G smartphones more popular. Telecom service providers need to deploy 5G network faster and complete the tests of relevant end services. It is estimated that the 5G infrastructure will not be completed until 2022. Moreover, the research and development (R&D) expenses of 5G smartphones remain high, high power consumption may also influence the standby time of phones, and there are also problems related to pricing strategies, etc. All these challenges need to be tested by the market and require a mature 5G ecosystem. TrendForce estimates that the global production volume of 5G smartphones would be 5 million units in 2019.