Chinese handset makers unveil 5G phones at trade show

Xiaomi senior vice-president Wang Xiang with the Mi 9 and Mi Mix 3 5G phones at a launch event ahead of Mobile World Congress on Sunday. Huawei consumer business group chief Richard Yu presenting the 5G-capable Mate X at the Mobile World Congress in
Huawei consumer business group chief Richard Yu presenting the 5G-capable Mate X at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Sunday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Xiaomi senior vice-president Wang Xiang with the Mi 9 and Mi Mix 3 5G phones at a launch event ahead of Mobile World Congress on Sunday. Huawei consumer business group chief Richard Yu presenting the 5G-capable Mate X at the Mobile World Congress in
Xiaomi senior vice-president Wang Xiang with the Mi 9 and Mi Mix 3 5G phones at a launch event ahead of Mobile World Congress on Sunday. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BARCELONA • Chinese handset makers trotted out their latest smartphones built for faster 5G networks at the biggest trade show for mobile technology, amid tensions between the US and China over the use of Chinese firm Huawei's equipment to build such networks.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the world's fourth-largest smartphone maker Xiaomi became one of the first to put a price on its 5G smartphone.

The Mi Mix 3 5G, with prices starting from €599 (S$918), to be launched in May. The low price elicited gasps from congress audience. Xiaomi has not said when the phone will be available in Singapore.

The world's largest handset maker Samsung was the first to announce a 5G mobile phone - a variant of its flagship Galaxy S10 smartphone - last week, but did not reveal the pricing or availability.

Huawei said its 5G-capable Mate X will start at €2,299. The device has a foldable screen that extends from 6.6 inches to 8 inches when unfurled.

South Korea's LG and China's Oppo have also made 5G smartphone announcements here, although they have yet to release the pricing or availability of their models.

Unlike critical network infrastructure, 5G smartphones are unlikely to face any scrutiny over the origin of the chips enabling their 5G functionality. The majority of these phones - from 18 device makers to date - use American firm Qualcomm's X50 5G modem.

Depending on the mobile connection, 5G networks can be 10 to 100 times faster than 4G networks. A 1GB movie can be downloaded in about three seconds.

Qualcomm said its 5G modem can achieve a peak theoretical download speed of 5Gbps, compared with 4G smartphones that can reach slightly over 1Gbps on 4G networks. Real-world speeds, though, are likely to be much lower.

Huawei's Mate X uses its own Balong 5G modem. Its consumer business chief described Mate X as the world's fastest 5G smartphone.

 
 
 
 

Apple, which does not have a presence at the congress, is unlikely to introduce a 5G iPhone this year, according to a Bloomberg report.

The 5G smartphones on show at the congress are early prototypes and the actual devices are expected to be shipped later this year. Even so, it could take a while before most consumers can enjoy the benefits of the technology.

Forrester Research vice-president Thomas Husson said it will take another five to seven years before 5G phones are adopted by the masses in most countries.

"Telcos and network equipment providers should learn from 3G and 4G roll-outs and not overpromise on the technology," he said.

Also, 5G is at "the centre of the economic and political war between the US and China" because it will be the backbone of a fully connected world, he added.

The US has been urging its allies to ban Huawei's 5G equipment because of fears that the equipment could be used by the Chinese government for espionage.

In Singapore, 5G networks are slated to roll out after 2020. But 5G phones may be available in the city state before the roll-out.

Mr Alexander Dehmel, manager at market research firm GfK, said: "Singapore, being a strategic hub in Asia, will be one of the first few hotbed markets for brands to launch their latest product innovation and technology."

Vincent Chang

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2019, with the headline 'Chinese handset makers unveil 5G phones at trade show'. Print Edition | Subscribe