Qualcomm’s push for 5G will soon hit some of the cheapest phones on the market. Today, the company announced 5G is coming to the Snapdragon 4-series in “early 2021.”
Qualcomm says the goal of these chips is to enable “5G for everyone,” and the chips will show up in phones ranging from $125 to $250. The 4 series is where Qualcomm’s mass-market sales really happen, and the company says it will be able to reach 3.5 billion smartphone users with these new chips. The only cheaper chips in Qualcomm’s lineup are the 2 series, but those phones make up the bargain-basement $100-and-below market and are actually pretty rare.
“5G” here most likely means sub-6GHz 5G, which is cheaper to implement than the faster mmWave 5G. mmWave requires several additional antennas in the phone due to its poor signal penetration. Your hand will block the signal, so the solution to that is multiple antennas that work around your hand position. Sub-6GHz 5G has much better signal characteristics and has a shot of a wide rollout. mmWave is responsible for any of the 5G speed test records you see—and all the advertisement talk of “revolutionary” connectivity—but carriers in the US have said mmWave will be limited to cities because it requires so many towers.
5G is still not something anyone should run out and buy a new phone for. The network build-out process is only just beginning, and even sub-6GHz is not available in most locations. Areas with poor 4G connectivity are most likely the result of low carrier investment in your area, and that’s not something 5G (which requires even more network infrastructure) is going to fix. All Qualcomm’s 4 series announcement means is that soon you won’t have a choice when it comes to 5G—all phones will be 5G phones. 5G handset hardware doesn’t mean the networks are ready for 5G or that you’ll get a significantly better experience by buying a 5G phone.