At an event in Beijing today, Qualcomm announced partnerships with six Chinese manufacturers to accelerate availability of 5G devices in China. Preliminary Qualcomm agreements with four of the companies have an estimated value of at least $2 billion over three years, beginning with the 2019 release of domestic and global smartphones.
Under the new “5G Pioneer” initiative, Qualcomm expects to provide Lenovo, Oppo, Vivo, Wingtech Technology, Xiaomi, and ZTE with a platform to develop “premium tier and global 5G commercial devices,” importantly including RF front-end components that convert analog radio waves into digital signals. RF front-ends are critical parts in wireless phones, and can dramatically reduce power drain along with battery size if properly engineered.
Adding to its previously announced 5G RF front-ends, Qualcomm used the event to disclose a new “break-through 5G Tunable RF front-end” component that may actually live up to its hype. Given the wide variety of radio frequencies 5G is expected to demand even within a single country, a chip capable of dynamically adjusting its “radio tuning” to address different frequencies is at a distinct advantage, perhaps more so for globe-trotting devices.
Multiple studies have suggested that China will quickly become the world’s largest market for 5G devices. A Qualcomm survey suggests that 60 percent of Chinese consumers are likely to buy 5G smartphones when they become available, and seven of the top 10 global smartphone makers are from China.
Lenovo, Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi have all signed memoranda of understanding with Qualcomm to purchase 5G parts under the agreement; Wingtech and ZTE agreements appear to be pending. The partnership represents the first concrete sign that China will be able to offer 5G in 2019; China previously committed to making 5G available by 2020.