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Apple to Jump on 5G Bandwagon in 2020 | Tech Buzz

By John P. Mello Jr. Jul 30, 2019 2:53 AM PT

Apple's 2019 crop of iPhones haven't been released yet but there's already talk about its 2020 plans, largely because that will be the first year the company's mobile lineup will support 5G.

Ming-Chi Kuo, an Apple analyst known for his accurate predictions, wrote in a note to investors that he believes all three iPhones introduced in 2020 will support 5G, MacRumors reported Sunday.

Kuo gave three reasons for Apple's decision to support 5G across its 2020 iPhone lineup:

Apple now has the additional resources it needs for the move with the purchase of Intel's smartphone modem business, a deal valued at US$1 billion. However, MacRumors pointed out that the 2020 iPhones will be using Qualcomm chips because Apple's custom modem chips won't be ready until 2021. Low-priced Android 5G phones, selling in the $249 to $349 range, will make 5G a must in the minds of consumers in the second half of 2020. 5G iPhone support could boost Apple's augmented reality ecosystem.

"Apple iPhones would not be competitive in 2020 without 5G support," observed San Jose, California-based Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research, a high-tech research and advisory firm.

"5G is going to roll out with or without Apple," he told TechNewsWorld.

Two 5G Flavors

The iPhones will support both flavors of 5G that are expected to be available at the time of the 2020 release.

Two groups of frequencies are being used for 5G. There's the "sub-6 group," so named because it uses frequencies with wave lengths of less than 6 GHz. Then there's the "millimeter wave group," which uses frequencies with wave lengths of about one millimeter.

Sub-6 5G has a longer range and better building penetration qualities than mmWave, while mmWave supports blazing fast transmission speeds and performs better in areas of dense usage, such as sports stadiums or urban areas.

Most low-priced 5G Android phones will support only sub-6 5G, Kuo explained. By supporting both sub-6 and mmWave, Apple will cater favor not only with carriers, some of which might support one or the other 5G flavor, but also with consumers who expect the most from a top-tier phone.

However, Kuo did not rule out Apple producing a sub-6 only phone to gain some additional business in markets that only support sub-6 5G, such as China.

Biding Time

Although Apple will be getting into the 5G game later than some companies, that shouldn't hurt its competitive advantage.

"2020 is the earliest that 5G will gain broader acceptance," said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology advisory firm in Campbell, California.

"Early network coverage has been minimal, but by the end of 2020 a broader section of the U.S. should be able to access 5G," he told TechNewsWorld.

"The carriers will need at least 80 percent of the U.S. covered with 5G before it gains broader acceptance by smartphone users," Bajarin continued. "2020 will be the first year we see early adopters jumping in, but broader acceptance will be stronger going into 2021 to 2022."

There are advantages to not rushing into a new technology like 5G.

"It makes it easier to support all the different carriers," noted Frank E. Gillett, principal analyst at Forrester Research, a market research company headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"Early in a deployment, each carrier can be different enough from the others that it's hard for a given phone to support them all," he told TechNewsWorld.

"By next year, people will be able to put out modems that support more carriers on more frequencies," Gillett said. "Now you need a different 5G phone depending on the carrier you're connecting to in the United States. Next year, the 5G chips will be better equipped to connect to more carriers with one chip, so Apple won't have to make several versions of the iPhone depending on the carrier."

Consumer Appeal Undetermined

Apple has been consistent with its 2020 date for 5G support, noted Jason Leigh, senior research analyst for mobility at IDC, a market research company in Framingham, Massachusetts.

"Earlier this year, when Intel fell behind the curve in producing 5G modems, that's when Apple canceled its agreement with Intel and settled its lawsuit with Qualcomm," he told TechNewsWorld.

"Once they signed the agreement with Qualcomm, that solidified the 2020 date," Leigh added.

Waiting until 2020 to go 5G enables Apple to learn from Android's early experience with the technology, he suggested.

"I also think it allows the application ecosystem to mature a little more," Leigh said. "Right now they're handing out super-fast phones, but people are using them for tasks that can be performed fine on LTE. Developers have to answer the question, 'Besides more speed, what's 5G going to do for me?'"

Most carriers have acknowledged that the real opportunity for 5G is on the enterprise side of things, he added. "The consumer side is still a to-be-determined story."

'Buzzword Compliant'

There are not a lot of early benefits for 5G iPhone users, according to Forrester's Gillett.

"They'll be buzzword compliant," he joked.

"To be honest, in the short term I don't see much advantage to 5G for most phone users," Gillett said. "Eventually, we'll see more interesting uses that take more advantage of 5G than reducing latency at a baseball game when I and everyone else is on the phone."

It's going to remain up in the air until the 5G iPhones are released whether a broad demand for them will be there.

"The question is, in the mind of the consumer, are they going to feel they have to have 5G, that not having it is a deal killer?" wondered Bob O'Donnell, chief analyst at Technalysis Research, a technology market research and consulting firm in Foster City, California.

"That's a fair question, especially for a phone from Apple, because it's going to be expensive," he told TechNewsWorld. "But by the second half of 2020, most Android phones at much lower prices will have 5G, so it would look bad for Apple not to have 5G across its line."

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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