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Qualcomm is preparing for a small first wave of 5G smartphones to launch in 2018 rather than 2019, senior VP Durga Prasad Malladi said in an interview with the Economic Times today. Though most carriers and device makers will launch 5G next year, some aggressive regional players will be ready later this year with standards-compliant smartphones that offer twice or 4 times the speed of top 4G/LTE devices.

Malladi explained that though almost all of the device makers are focused on 2019 releases — specifically starting in early 2019 — some are working to support earlier regional launches. “Some operators in fact have gone on the record and stated that they would like to commercialize in late 2018 itself,” said Malladi. “We are doing everything that we can to help them.”

Carriers are in the process of finalizing the speeds they’ll support for early 5G devices. Malladi notes that “they all like the fact that they can go anywhere from 1 to 4.5Gbps depending upon which band they are operating in,” and said they are generally looking at starting at either 2Gbps or 4Gbps (2 to 4 times the peak speeds of very recent 4G/LTE networks). Qualcomm has previously said that LTE will serve as a fallback when 5G isn’t available, offering around 1Gbps if a carrier’s network supports that speed.

Users should expect to be pleased by real-world 5G speeds, particularly in dense urban locations. Based on experiments using millimeter wave in a city like San Francisco, “50 percent of the users get something like 1.4Gb per second,” Malladi said, “it’s going to change the way that you do things.” He said when you think of your laptop or your tablet getting that sort of speed, “your consumption is going to change quite dramatically.” Compared with the engineering challenges of delivering such speeds to mobile and portable devices, offering fixed 5G home broadband service for desktop computers and TVs — Verizon’s initial plan — is “simple,” noted Malladi.

Malladi also addressed the topic of multi-band support — the ability of a single device to work across the varied radio frequencies 5G will be using. Qualcomm has committed to supporting carriers across the world in their launches, with frequencies now ranging from low 600MHz to midrange 2.5-4.9GHz to millimeter wave 28 and 39GHz bands. Due to engineering decisions, Malladi expects carrier performance to be pretty similar regardless of the band, assuming that the carrier has 100MHz of midrange spectrum or 800MHz of millimeter wave spectrum available and is properly using beamforming and massive MIMO antennas. Speeds of 4Gbps are attainable across the midrange and millimeter wave bands, though network design will limit real-world performance.

Qualcomm said in January that it was expecting to show the first 5G phone on stage at next year’s CES, but the timetable has clearly moved up by months due to carrier and device manufacturer pressure. Today’s interview potentially paves the way for a carrier such as AT&T to go beyond its previous plan and begin offering mobile 5G service with personal hotspot “pucks,” assuming that a phone maker or two can pass FCC certification in time for AT&T’s initial 2018 rollouts in Atlanta, Dallas, Waco, and other cities.

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