Qualcomm this week joined Chinese smartphone makers including OnePlus, Oppo, Xiaomi and ZTE to demonstrate new, faster 5G handsets and mobile networks targeting the China market.
The San Diego company participated in a conference in Shanghai hosted by China Unicom, the second largest mobile operator in China.
China Unicom conducted live 5G demonstrations on a live network covering the conference center and using mobile devices powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon mobile processors, X50 5G cellular modems and radio frequency front end components.
While China Unicom hasn't revealed exactly when it will roll out 5G at a large scale, Qualcomm said mobile 5G service is expected to begin showing up in China this year.
High speed, low latency 5G networks already have been plugged in on a limited basis in the U.S. and South Korea. Earlier this month, Verizon launched 5G in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis, with more cities expected by year end.
AT&T has also begun 5G deployments in certain neighborhoods in 19 cities, including San Diego. The company is not revealing exactly where 5G is available locally. But it plans to offer at least three 5G mobile devices later this year, including the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G this spring.
Along with the U.S. and South Korea, Swisscom said last week that it will begin deploying its 5G network soon and plans to offer 5G devices from OPPO, LG and others by the end of 2019.
"In a span of few weeks, we have witnessed 5G launches in the U.S., South Korea, the announcement of an imminent deployment in Europe, and now we are observing the dawn of 5G in China," said Durga Malladi, a senior vice president of Qualcomm working on 4G and 5G technologies, in a blog post.
Along with OnePlus, Oppo, Xiaomi and ZTE, other Chinese device makers that use Qualcomm chips also are participating in the China Unicom demonstrations, including Vivo and Nubia.
Analysts believe Qualcomm is among the leaders in bringing 5G silicon to smartphones, with about a one-year head start on most competitors. The company said more than 30 5G devices using its silicon are expected to launch in 2019.
China's Huawei also is considered a leader in 5G network gear, smartphones and related technologies. It announced its own internal 5G cellular chip for use in its smartphones. But Qualcomm is supplying many of Huawei's China-based smartphone competitors.
China is the world's largest market for mobile devices, with more than 1.2 billion subscribers on its three main operators – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom.
Analysts expect the transition to 5G will occur faster than the move from 3G to 4G - in part because of low costs and additional capacity for operators to serve up data to subscribers for mobile video, mobile gaming, cloud-connected health care, smart cities infrastructure and other services.
"The arrival of 5G in China is big news as it is occurring earlier than many anticipated, bringing 5G to the world's largest mobile user base within 2019," said Malladi. "While 4G services were launched in China several years after the first commercial 4G network went live elsewhere, with 5G, it all begins in year one."
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