Android Manufacturers Will Likely Beat Apple to 5G Phones

Qualcomm head says Android will support 5G by next year

Qualcomm announced its new 5G chip this month in Hawaii. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Kulp

Android users may be able to tap into the next generation of wireless service well before their counterparts on Apple’s iOS.

Verizon and AT&T each announced plans this week to release their first 5G-enabled phones early next year in partnership with Samsung and telecom chipmaker Qualcomm. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Apple will wait until at least 2020 to offer an iPhone compatible with the forthcoming high-speed standards.

The news comes out of Qualcomm’s three-day Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii this week, where the company is unveiling the latest version of its flagship phone processor with 5G support. The new iteration, which will be integrated into Verizon and AT&T Android phones starting next year, will not only be able to pick up the super high-frequency short-range waves necessary to transmit extra data at faster speeds—it also includes more advanced artificial intelligence functions that will allow for camera object recognition and 3D biometrics.

“5G is so important that the entire industry is moving at the same pace for 2019 launches,” Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon said in a keynote at the event. “They understand this is … about making sure the industry is competitive with the innovation of 5G and the artificial intelligence that goes alongside. That’s what’s unique about this transition as compared to 4G.”

The entire industry, that is, except for Apple. While the delay could give Apple’s chief competitor a leg up with consumers eager to unlock a much faster mobile internet, the Cupertino giant seems to be betting that the initial rollout of the new networks will be spotty enough that it can safely bide its time until service is more widely available. That wait-and-see approach didn’t damper sales when Apple similarly sat out the early stages of the previous two generations of cell service, 3G in 2007 and 4G LTE in 2011.

The gap may also have to do with Apple’s bitter protracted intellectual property battle with former partner Qualcomm, which has forced the former to turn instead to Intel for its 5G chip needs. Intel is reportedly lagging behind Qualcomm in the race to mint the new technology.

In any case, those extra months may not make much of a difference for a large portion of consumers. True mobile 5G is only set to be available in limited markets for each of the big-four carriers next year, and the networks will be in such a nascent stage that much of the high-speed hype will not yet be realized. In that early period, consumers won’t notice much difference between 5G and 4G LTE in terms of everyday use.

Still, the transition to 5G could ultimately be a much more significant milestone for the wireless industry than any previous generational upgrade, with speeds set to be between 10 and 100 times faster than current service and latency in load time to be less than one millisecond. Those specs are expected to open a whole range of new internet-of-things and smart-city markets—and Apple could risk missing out on some of that promise.

@patrickkulp Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.