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5G telephones are expensive, but MediaTek wants to change that

Although we have seen the 1Gbps download speeds that we are promised with 5G, these are only in expensive flagship telephones such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, adding price to the list of obstacles that stand between the average user and the super fast mobile networks of the future.

But that will not always be the case. The Taiwanese chip maker MediaTek processors have been at the heart of affordable handsets since the start of smartphones and the company has focused on a mid-range price that they call the ' new premium ' to mention. The company has just introduced its first 5G capable chip, which performs well enough to qualify for devices competing on the flagship.

The telephone manufacturers that choose MediaTek's chips determine how affordable their devices are, but they do get the value from the company gives priority to value, we would not be surprised if handsets with this 5G chip are cheaper than the currently announced 5G telephones on the way to markets. Although the limited availability Moto Z3 with 5G Moto Mod costs around $ 699 (£ 552, AU $ 1.009), other phones capable of tapping 5G are expected to follow the price of the Samsung S10 5G of $ 1,229 (£ 1,026, AU $ 1,876).

And even if the first 5G chip from MediaTek doesn't end up in more affordable phones, the following can lower the price barrier for access to 5G networks.

"Ultimately, the OEMs decide which functions, memory, displays, and cameras they place on a device and praise it the right way. We think this particular product is probably more on the high end position, but MediaTek ' s focus on the longer term will also be reflected in the focus on the ' new premium ' layer in the 5G generation & # 39 ;, said Finbarr Moynihan, general manager international sales at MediaTek.

This is the first we hear from a chip maker when the cost of 5G comes to earth.

MediaTek ' s chips do not often make it into phones that reach the US – not yet, although they are in many other products, such as Amazon Echo speakers. But if you are at the forefront of 5G (and affordable 5G), you can tempt the phonemakers who have previously chosen the chips from Qualcomm. In other regions where MediaTek's processors already end up in handsets, this new 5G chip can cause costs in the first year – and set an example for US OEMs and network providers.

To be clear, MediaTek ' s 5G chip is not necessarily the most powerful on the market, as the company made a few compromises to reduce costs, gambled on large parts of 5G and ignored others. All in all, this is how you make a 5G chip cheaper – and how that affordability may pass to 5G as a whole.

How to reduce the cost of 5G

Perhaps the most striking choice that MediaTek made is more strategic than technical. Overall, there are two categories of 5G mobile companies that consider: millimeter wave (mmWave for short), usually considered 24 to 90 GHz, and sub-6, frequencies at or below 6 GHz – including the 2 GHz to 8 GHz ranges where 4G works mostly. The first 5G chip from MediaTek only works on sub-6, saving costs and creating space by omitting mmWave connection technology.

MediaTek is entering a bet that sub-6 will go into markets that favor OEM ' s using its chips, and since carriers take all those 2 to 8 GHz spaces, it is not hard to imagine this. Moreover, those frequencies are expanding further, so that less robust networks can cover more areas. Sub-6 may not reach the high speeds of mmWave networks, which we have already seen to be very high in Verizon ' s limited 5G setup in Chicago, but their geographical coverage is superior.

To become more technical, MediaTek has reduced this chip to 7nm, which has a large number of advantages: less silicon to move means higher speeds and less energy dissipation, which means that less heat is generated – which is useful for devices operating in the hands are held or pressed against faces, Moynihan noted in a briefing about the new chip.

Another way to reduce the chip footprint and increase efficiency: move to single chip solutions. Their new Helio M70 5G modem is built into the chip, unlike, for example, the combination of the Snapdragon 855 and the Snapdragon X50 / X55, which prefer the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G.

"We have been very aggressively moving towards one-chip integration. Many solutions available for 5G are two-chip hybrid fusion solutions. They face challenges in terms of size, costs, and power that people face," said Moynihan.

The 5G roadmap from the MediaTek perspective

Although Moynihan did not determine which companies would pack the first telephones to pack MediaTek's 5G chip, he noted that they would be in the first quarter of 2020, and it would be reasonable to assume that the first products would be in China be launched. We will see it coming to other regions ' s next year, he added.

Even if a MediaTek 5G device were to leave permanently for the US, there might not be a sub-6 network ready next year: at present only T-Mobile and Sprint (after their still uncertain merger) are making noises about delivering sub-6 options on their networks. What contradicts how Moynihan expects the rest of the world to build their 5G setups.

"We think the sub-6 flavor of 5G will be the high-volume, global, mainstream 5G technology," said Moynihan. "We are developing millimeter wave technology, but there is clearly a stepping step in both devices and infrastructure around how to build a 5G millimeter wave network, and devices that support that with specialized radio capabilities. That will likely hold millimeter waves at those super high-end prices for a for a while, and it will be a while before it falls down. "

Price is likely to keep 5G out of reach for consumers who cannot afford the top-tier devices currently planned to support it. But even for those who can, there is not much reason to look up the advanced networks – apart from download media very quickly. Companies hunt for good use cases that prove that we need 5G.

"I think everyone is trying to find out if there is a great app that will run 5G. I don't think we have identified that as an industry yet!" Said Moynihan.

Which doesn't amount to trivializing the value of fast downloads that he thinks will be useful for "a whole range of applications – even those we haven't discovered yet. And it makes even everyday, yet desperate situations a thing of the past , such as the liminal moments before you lose the signal when you can take advantage of super fast downloads – remember to stand in line to board a flight and suddenly think of a TV show season you wanted to download.

Upload performance will also be improved. You don't have to look far to see the YouTube and influencer crowd who benefit from fast uploaded video. Streaming gaming also benefits from 5G, thanks to those fast download / upload speeds.

Before that happens, 4G LTE networks will have to reach parity. In certain geographic areas and certain regions, according to Moynihan, the 4G LTE networks are not as extensive as US airlines, particularly in Asia and China. But if those 5G networks are built up quickly, which China seems willing to do, the US may be catching up. The one who has to look in the US is the T-Mobile-Sprint network (if the merger continues), which would put their combined networks in a nice sub-6 position.

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