Chinese smartphone maker ZTE plans to launch its first 5G smartphone in late 2018 or early 2019. The company confirmed that it is planning to release a 5G-enabled smartphone by the end of this year or early next year but the plans depend on the availability of 5G networks.
Lixin Cheng, the CEO of ZTE’s mobile device business in the US told Bloomberg that the company plans to release a smartphone with faster 5G internet capabilities within a year. He also noted that the company will not limit its offering to phones and will also launch a 5G tablet or wireless-internet hub for homes. The confirmation comes amidst ongoing scrutiny of Chinese telecom equipment makes by the US government and a proposed bill that could ban devices from Huawei and ZTE in the United States.
Chipmakers including Qualcomm and Intel are expected to have chipsets supporting 5G connectivity ready by the end of this year. Both Qualcomm and Intel have demonstrated peer to peer phone call on 5G network. Leading telecom service providers in the US including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have started work on commercial rollout of 5G service.
AT&T plans to start 5G service in a dozen cities this year while Verizon has plans to have 5G service in five cities by the end of next year. Sprint says it plans to have commercial 5G services by late 2019 while T-Mobile is looking at 2020 for the rollout of 5G services.
The release of a 5G smartphone depends on availability of 5G modem from companies like Qualcomm and Intel and availability of 5G services from leading telecom service providers. ZTE, despite being a small player in the global smartphone market, could be the first to market if it launches a 5G capable smartphone at the end of this year or early next year.
Apple, which is engaged in a battle with Qualcomm, is reportedly working with Intel to develop a 5G modem and it is not expected to be available before the launch of iPhone in 2019. Apple has also received permission to begin testing 5G networking from the US government. Samsung, on the other hand, has not revealed its plans for a smartphone with 5G connectivity just yet but it has a partnership with Verizon Wireless for bringing 5G internet to homes, and has also announced a partnership with Reliance Jio to bring 5G in India.
ZTE may be able to launch a smartphone with 5G connectivity but its biggest problem will be the roadblock created by US government. At CES 2018, Huawei was expected to launch its Mate 10 series in partnership with leading telecom operators but the deal broke on the face of ongoing scrutiny around these Chinese companies. ZTE already has a partnership with both AT&T and Verizon in the US and it might manage to survive the scrutiny.