iPhones Will Get Bigger And More Expensive This Year Thanks To 5G

from the bigger,-faster,-stronger dept

While the airwaves are inundated with ads insisting that fifth-generation (5G) wireless is a transformative technology, we've noted repeatedly how much of this stuff is little more than hype designed to spur lagging smartphone sales. While faster, more resilient wireless networks will certainly be a good thing, when the standard arrives at scale several years from now, it's not actually going to transform the world in the way carrier ads would lead you to believe. And, in fact, some things will actually get a bit dumber before 5G fully arrives.

Case in point: 5G-supporting phones are already expensive and hard to come by, much like the networks they're supposed to attach to. Qualcomm was so eager to hype 5G and sell more hardware, the company removed the integrated 4G LTE chipset in its 2020 Snapdragon 865 system-on-a-chip (SOC). But one of the impacts of removing integrated LTE is that 5G support now requires more battery life and more space, increasing phone size and overall device cost:

This means nearly every flagship Android phone will be a 5G phone in 2020, and putting the 5G and 4G on a giant extra chip means smartphones are going to use way more power, no matter which cell network you're connected to. When 5G networks are only going to be in their infancy in 2020, this sounds like an across-the-board downgrade to me.

Apple's been lambasted in some quarters for being slower to market with 5G phones, even though the networks the phones will run on are patchy at best and will be for several years, still. Apple's finally pleasing those folks and will announce the iPhone 12 family of devices later this year, which will likely be, you guessed it, bigger and more expensive to accommodate 5G:

In order to add a 5G modem into an iPhone, there needs to be space. There are physical limitations to the current 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch iPhone 11 Pro that make it impossible for Apple to retain the same dimensions. Because 5G modems are still so new, they're larger (to support multiple spectrum) and more power-hungry; this is no different than the first smartphones with 4G LTE (the HTC Thunderbolt on Verizon was a fatty).

But it is different in that the hype surrounding 5G is exponentially larger than 4G hype ever was. Again, largely thanks to a saturated smartphone sales curve, courtesy of a plateau in overall design and innovation. Consumers are barely using the 30+ Mbps they receive (sometimes) via 4G now. Although it's not necessarily a bad thing, as faster speeds will drive innovation, few are currently calling for gigabit speeds in their pockets. Most consumer studies show that, more than anything, what consumers want is lower data prices.

In time, 5G (and a variety of technologies like virtualization rolling hand in hand with the standard) will provide faster, better, more reliable networks. But, as we keep noting, it's not some deus ex machina or panacea for the broadband sector. Thanks to corruption, regulatory capture, muted competition, and consolidation, you're going to pay more than ever for the same patchy availability and shaky customer service the sector has long been known for. As usual with consumer tech, the smart play will be to wait a year or two for phone design, battery development, and network deployment to catch up before diving into the 5G pool.

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Filed Under: 5g, devices, size, wireless

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2020 @ 9:47am


    He addressed that in the article:

    But one of the impacts of removing integrated LTE is that 5G support now requires more battery life and more space, increasing phone size and overall device cost:

    In other words, putting them on the same chip increases power consumption, which requires a bigger battery, therefore taking up more space and making the phone bigger and more expensive. And the combo 4G/5G chips are still massively bigger compared to existing 4G chips.

    In time, as the technology improves, the chips will get smaller again and power consumption will improve and things will return to the way they are today. That won't be for at least a few years though. They would have been better off waiting to roll out 5G until that time.

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