The first 5G phones ready to meet next-generation mobile standards will be available for the mass market in 2019 - a year ahead of most predictions - in several Asian countries and the United States, Qualcomm's CEO said on Thursday.
Steven Mollenkopf, chief executive of the world's top maker of smartphone chips, said in an interview that rising consumer and business demands were forcing the industry to accelerate its previous 2020 timeline to upgrade to new networks and devices.
"You will see it (5G) in real devices, on the shelf, in 2019. And if I were to answer that same question a year ago, I would have said 2020", Mollenkopf said in an interview on the sidelines of the Frankfurt Motor Show.
Commercialisation of 5G is vital to the fortunes of makers of network equipment gear such as Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson, as well as device makers like Samsung Electronics and Apple by enabling demand for new features and equipment upgrades.
Moving to new networks promises to enable new mobile services and even whole new business models, but could pose challenges for industries unable to invest in upgrades.
Unlike the prior upgrades of cellular standards 2G in the early 1990s, 3G just around the millennium and 4G in 2010, 5G standards will deliver not just faster phone or computer data but link up cars, machines, cargo and crop equipment to the Internet.
The Qualcomm executive said South Korea, Japan and the United States all now had several network operators in each market preparing mainstream network launches in 2019, with China likely to join this early wave rather than hanging behind.
"I think you will see the typical first movers - Korea, Japan and the United States," he said referring to the history of 3G and 4G cellular network upgrades, when South Korea and Japan moved first and the United States quickly followed.
"You will see robust demand in all of those locations, meaning that there are multiple operators wanting to be first and not be left behind. (Most) will have a different deployment strategy or goal," he said, fuelling competition for new users.
China, far and away the world's largest market for phones, has traditionally lagged behind these early adopters, but Mollenkopf said they are likely to join the first movers to 5G.
"What we are seeing in China is a real desire not to be a follower and to launch with everyone else. That's new this time."
"From a geopolitical perspective, certain regions of the world just don't want to be late to that game," he said.
The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February 2018 are expected to be the first widespread public showcase for 5G services.
(Reporting by Eric Auchard; Editing by Mark Potter)