China’s ZTE aims to launch a 5G smartphone in US by early 2019

The world’s fourth-largest telecommunications equipment supplier, ZTE is expected to compete against the likes of Apple and Samsung, as well as other major Chinese brands, in introducing a 5G smartphone

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 5:53pm

ZTE Corp, the world’s fourth-largest telecommunications equipment supplier, aims to launch a 5G smartphone in about a year, according to Cheng Lixin, the chief executive of the company’s United States operations.

Shenzhen-based ZTE would introduce the device in the US either at the end of this year or early 2019, Cheng said in an interview on the sidelines of the CES trade show in Las Vegas.

Plans may change based on the roll-out of 5G network services and supply of the necessary chipsets for the smartphones.

Cheng said a 5G tablet or wireless-internet hub for homes were possibilities, too.

Telecommunications network operator AT&T said earlier this month that it plans to implement 5G mobile service in about a dozen US cities this year, without naming any specific locations.

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Qualcomm Technologies, the world’s biggest mobile chip supplier, has also talked up new chipsets and its own 5G smartphone reference design to support initial tests and future deployments of this next-generation wireless system.

The international authorities overseeing the creation of a unified standard for 5G mobile technologies are expected to release the initial specifications this year and the final phase in 2019, paving the way for wider commercial deployment of 5G services by mobile network operators around the world.

5G, which represents the latest advance in mobile communications, is expected to see initial network deployments in Asia, led by South Korea and Japan.

The International Telecommunications Union, the UN agency shepherding the development of the IMT 2020 standard for 5G technologies, has said the upcoming universal specification will support: a million connected devices per square kilometre; 1 millisecond latency, or the amount of time a packet of data takes to get from one point to another; higher energy and mobile spectrum efficiency; and a peak data download rate of up to 20 gigabits per second.

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The comments made by ZTE’s Cheng came nearly a year after the company, whose shares trade in both Hong Kong and Shenzhen, was officially removed from the US trade blacklist.

Following a five-year investigation by Washington, ZTE pleaded guilty in March last year and agreed to pay the US government a total of US$1.2 billion in penalties for breaching long-standing sanctions on Iran and North Korea. It marked the largest fine ever levied by Washington in an export control case.

Cheng’s comments also came after the collapse of a US smartphone distribution deal between AT&T and Huawei Technologies, China’s largest smartphone brand and the world’s biggest telecommunications equipment supplier.

ZTE already sells both its branded and white-label smartphones via mobile carriers AT&T and Verizon in the US. Smartphone brands do not need carrier deals to sell devices in the US, but such partnerships provide a significant boost in marketing and retail presence.

In the third quarter of last year, ZTE was the fourth-ranked smartphone supplier in the US with shipments of 4.6 million units, according to estimates from research firm Strategy Analytics. The top three US smartphone brands are Apple, Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics.

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According to data compiled from Bloomberg Intelligence, ZTE is not a significant player in the global smartphone market, with just a 2.1 per cent market share in the third quarter.

ZTE, however, is part of a group of major Chinese smartphone brands pushing to compete with Apple and Samsung globally.

Both Huawei and ZTE also run profitable network equipment businesses that sell key telecommunications hardware and software to mobile services providers around the world.

If it indeed releases a 5G smartphone by early 2019, ZTE is likely to be one of the first to market, potentially going up against Apple and Samsung, as well as other major Chinese mobile phone brands.