Galaxy Fold and Mate X: How collapsible phones eclipsed 5G at MWC

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5G has actually been the preferred buzzword at MWC here in Barcelona for the previous couple of years, however 2019 is when it really showed up. Now that it’s here, all anybody can speak about are collapsible phones. 

The next-generation network innovation assures blazing speeds, smooth and steady connections and brand-new possibilities for VR, self-driving vehicles and robotics. This being the huge brand-new thing for the mobile market, all the gamers — from phone makers and facilities suppliers to chipmakers and cordless providers — have actually been desperate to show how prepared they are.

But at Mobile World Congress, there was even more buzz about the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X than about the early 5G gadgets being flaunted. The absence of attention paid to all the 5G phones makes you question whether all the racing and chest-beating was really required, and acts as a tip that the next-generation cordless innovation is still in its early days.

Part of the issue is that 5G being “here” does not always imply it’s here for you. With early protection being rather sporadic, market professionals concur that adoption will not truly start up until late 2019 and into next year. 

“5G radios and phones will be better in 2020,” stated Frank Gillett, an expert at Forrester. “Consumers will continue to pay attention to the basics of price, screen size and cameras, with 5G an afterthought until it comes on more affordable phones and without a pricey monthly plan.”

5G battle 

Whenever a brand-new generation of network innovation occurs, there’s typically a shakeup in the ranking of leading phone makers. This provides a chance for more recent gamers in the market

Ahead of MWC, Samsung was the very first business to in fact reveal a 5G phone (the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G). But other business, especially Chinese phone makers such as Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, which a couple of years ago were primarily unusual in the United States and Europe, have actually been teasing demonstrations on Twitter for a number of months now. For them, being early with 5G is an opportunity to separate and get ahead.

In spite of their being amongst the very first business to reveal 5G gadgets at the program, most 5G phones are presently top-tier and at the more costly end of the spectrum, indicating the prospective consumer base for them today is proportionally rather little.

The possibility is that most of individuals will wait up until 5G phones are more economical prior to diving in. Waiting might likewise imply that the innovation is better-refined and able to work throughout more networks.

The business that didn’t bring a 5G phone to MWC this year didn’t appear much worried about dragging, either. They sign up with Apple in the ranks of phone makers pursuing 5G futures on a longer and fuzzier timeline.

“We believe that this year is literally the first introduction round, so we think probably early next year is a good time for a mass-market 5G rollout in the key markets where we see an opportunity, like Western Europe and the US,” HMD Chief Executive Florian Seiche stated in an interview with CNET.

“The mass deployment to 5G customers will be the end of the year and 2020,” stated Honor CEO George Zhao. The business will highlight its very first 5G phone later on in 2019.

The collapsible eclipse

Mobile business likewise had a challenging time at MWC attempting to attract enjoyment over 5G phones, due to the fact that it’s difficult to see and even completely experience the distinction the next-generation networks will bring.

The spotlight was rather well and really taken by aesthetically remarkable collapsible phones with their bending wraparound screens. There is some crossover in between 5G and collapsible gadgets — the Mate X, for instance — however it’s the phenomenon of the folding system that drew the crowds at the program.

Phones like the Huawei Mate X have actually caught individuals’s attention.


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

“The foldable design has captured people’s imagination, but this was a technology we have been tracking for years now — it just so happens to coincide with the launch of 5G,” stated IHS Markit’s expert Wayne Lam. Foldable phones indicate an advancement in mobile style that might alter the future of phones and tablets as gadget classifications, he included.

It’s no surprise that after years of phones looking noticeably comparable, individuals are delighted to see something brand-new.

“These folding devices come at an important time for the smartphone industry, when phone makers are struggling to differentiate their products and consumers are indifferent to this homogeneous ‘sea of smartphone sameness’,” stated CCS Insight expert Ben Wood in an article. The mobile phone of the last years or two has actually basically stayed “black touch-screen monobloc,” he stated.

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5G, for all its many promises, is unlikely to have a similarly profound impact on our everyday experience of owning a phone. Yes, it will make using online apps and services faster and more stable, but industry experts believe that the most exciting and important uses for 5G will be in business, the internet of things, smart cities and automobiles.

Carriers in competition

In the lead-up to 5G actually going live, many carriers were climbing over each other be first. South Korean carrier KT in December claimed to be the first, offering a mobile 5G network and a robot for its first customer.

The competition has been particularly fierce in the US. Verizon launched its Verizon Home 5G service in October, but critics argued that it didn’t stick to industry standards, so technically didn’t count. AT&T launched its mobile service in a dozen markets in December, but the deployments are tiny.

“They’re small pockets,” AT&T Chief Technology Officer Andre Fuetsch said in an interview at MWC on Tuesday. The company hasn’t publicly said where the networks are, and noted that only small-business customers are using it.

On Monday, Sprint CEO Michel Combes said his company would have the first 5G network, but altered the definition.

“We’re first in real mobile 5G in the US with real coverage, real devices, real proposition,” Combes said during a press conference at the show.

The company has committed to covering a combined 1,000 square miles across nine cities by the middle of the year. No other carrier has said how much area it’ll cover.

Europe has been playing catch-up to an extent, but in the past 12 months both EE and Vodafone have stepped up their efforts to show off their 5G prowess. Just ahead of MWC, Vodafone claimed the first phone connection to a live 5G network, while EE announced back in December at the Qualcomm summit in Hawaii that it would bring 5G to 16 UK cities this year.

The one thing that can be said for the carriers is that they’ve helped to build momentum and ensure the correct infrastructure is in place, which means 5G will roll out faster than the industry originally expected, and faster than 4G did. This is something that we’ll all benefit from, but is unlikely to set individual networks apart — especially given that they’re mostly national players fighting for glory on an international stage.

“There’s been too much attention on this 5G rollout for there to be a clear simple winner,” Gillett said.

Qualcomm for the win?

If anyone looked like the winner in 5G at MWC this year, it was chipmaker Qualcomm. The company had its tech in every 5G phone at the show, and has partnerships with carriers from around the world. During a cocktail reception on Tuesday, Qualcomm had every handset maker, carrier and infrastructure partner on stage with glasses of champagne. It was a crowded scene. 

“Qualcomm does have an advantage for handset modems and integrated chips, which will keep it strong in the 5G era,” said Gillett, the Forrester analyst. But, he added, Samsung and Huawei also have their own chips coming, and while it will be tough to compete with Qualcomm, it won’t be impossible.

qulacomm-with-all-5g-handset-makers

Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon (center) celebrated the launch of 5G phones from a variety of handset makers. Execs from those companies — (from right) Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo, Sony, Xiaomi, ZTE and Nubia — joined him at MWC 2019 in Barcelona. 


Shara Tibken/CNET

For Qualcomm’s part, it’s not playing favorites between any of its 5G partners. “The joy of the last 18 months has been the joy of everything everyone’s announced,” said Ben Timmons, Qualcomm’s European director of business development, at a pre-MWC briefing in London.  Different dominant players will emerge in the transition from 4G to 5G, he added, but it will take time.

“It’s not a question of whether you’re launching on a particular day in a particular month, it’s what you do to exploit the technology,” he said. If there are winners in the 5G era, they won’t just be the companies that move quickly to get ahead, he added. It will be those who move “imaginatively” to make the most of the technology.

“There will be changes,” Timmons said. “But I’ve no idea what they’re going to be.”

Additional reporting by Roger Cheng.