Just as it has done in the past with the 3G and LTE transition, Bloomberg says Apple will bide its time and not jump on the 5G cellular train with the 2019 iPhone. Carriers will rollout 5G coverage in certain areas next year, and manufacturers like Samsung are set to launch 5G-capable phones at the same time.
The report says Apple will wait at least until the 2020 iPhone revision to add 5G radios. Bloomberg’s report, citing sources familiar with the matter, lines up with the supply chain mumblings we’ve been hearing.
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The original iPhone was such a revolution in almost every respect, except it only ran on EDGE cellular networking. The iPhone 3G followed a year later. The iPhone 4S launched at a time when Android manufacturers were selling several LTE handsets, but Apple held out, waiting for the technology to mature. Apple was proved right on that one, with early 4G phones suffering from poor battery life. The second-gen modems were notably better, which Apple touted in the iPhone 5.
It’s not yet clear if the first 5G phones will suffer the same kind of problems. Bloomberg does not speculate on Apple’s decision to hold out, but the initial yields of 5G modems is likely to be a significant factor, which cannot meet iPhone levels of demand.
Apple’s fall out with Qualcomm also limits their options if they did want to jump on the 5G train sooner. Intel’s 5G phone modems are not ready to launch yet, and should be available in volume in about 18 month’s time (too late for the 2019 iPhone).
5G speeds are dramatically faster than LTE, so there is a risk that customers could switch away from the iPhone if Apple is too late to the game. However, availability of 5G coverage is a big question mark which mitigates a lot of the first mover advantage from a phone maker’s perspective. The pace of 5G carrier deployments are largely unclear, but it’s unlikely to be pervasive for several years.