Tag Archives: samsung

Tired of 5G hype? Refresh yourself with 6G speculation

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Samsung 6g

While AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile squabble over each other’s claims of 5G dominance and their theories of 5G Evolution, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on how nothing changes in the mobile business. They had the same fights over 4G and they will do it all over again when 6G arrives.

Yes, 6G.

Expect to hear more about it in the not too distant future. 6G is undefined now, but there’s an assumption that it will be developed over the next 10 years, and that it will be something like total immersion in a sea of data.

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel talked about 6G at the Mobile World Congress show in Los Angeles a couple of years ago – the first time I heard someone try to define it. She described it as continual network densification. Samsung calls it “hyper-connectivity involving humans and everything”.

5G technology is all about network densification at the city block and factory floor level. 6G will be about densifying networks at a personal level.

6G development is likely to take the diverse development path that 4G took, rather than the internationally coordinated standards setting process that led to 5G. It’ll be developed by bits and pieces over the next ten years, and then eventually bundled into a package with a 6G label on it. As with other technologies, initial attempts might be for military applications. Technology that allows troops, equipment and weapons to be continually and comprehensively linked to AI-class analysis, command and control would be a game changer.

It’s not simple connectivity, of any generation, that’ll make the difference. Superiority – military or economic – will be gained or lost on the basis of the applications, data and devices that use it. 5G’s potential has barely been tapped and there’s a lot of work that has to be done before it runs out of steam.

But, ya know, 5G is so 2020.

Early 5G adopters will pay a high price for phones

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Huawei 5g ces 9jan2020

5G phones won’t come cheap in 2020. Although the Consumer Technology Association expects manufacturers to ship 20 million 5G-enabled smartphones to U.S. carriers and retailers this year, that’s not enough volume to drive prices down into the typical Android phone range (although iPhone users might not feel as much sticker shock).

The first 5G smartphone to hit the U.S. market last year was priced around $1,300 – that’s what high tech toys cost when they’re really just toys. The 2020 price point will drop by more than half to the $600 range by next Fall, according to a story on C|net by Roger Cheng and Eli Blumenthal. That’s iPhone territory.

As they typically do, most manufacturers kept their cards face down on the table at CES in Las Vegas in January. Samsung and LG had 5G smartphones on display, but deferred questions about price points to mobile carriers – that’s their distribution channel for now.

Huawei, on the other hand, was upfront about pricing. Its flagship Mate 30 pro 5G smartphone can be bought right now for $1,200 on the web. When a company is on the U.S. enemies list, distribution options are fewer and direct sales to consumers starts looking pretty good.

2021 will be different. CTA projects 61 million 5G smartphones will be pushed out into U.S. retail channels, which is about a third of total volume (the rest are 4G units). Add in previous year’s total and that represents a 20% to 25% market share, which goes beyond the technophile and early adopter segments, and reaches into the price sensitive general consumer population.

China is a wild card in this game. Like the two big South Korean manufacturers, Chinese smartphone makers have the advantage of a better developed home market for 5G products, and it’s a bigger market and, ultimately, a bigger advantage – Qualcomm expects 200 million 5G smartphones to be shipped worldwide in 2020, which, if taken at face value with the CTA numbers, means 90% will be going somewhere other than the U.S. If the likes of Huawei and ZTE can overcome U.S. government opposition and break into mainstream U.S. distribution channels, prices will come down faster.

Don’t expect to be able to buy a cheap – say, sub-$200 – 5G smartphone this year. Unless the doors to Chinese manufacturers open up, you probably won’t see that in 2021 either.

Samsung’s 5G small cell in a box solves aesthetics problems, for some people and some applications

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Samsung 5g 28ghz unit 22oct2019

The most interesting thing on the exhibit floor at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Los Angeles might have been the dullest. Because it was so dull.

Samsung introduced a 28 GHz 5G small cell unit that packs antennas and electronics into a small, anonymous box that can be strapped to, say, a streetlight pole. According to a Samsung rep at the show, Verizon has already signed up to buy it.

As small cell facilities go, the box is tiny – two-thirds of a cubic foot, or about the size and shape of a toolbox. Something like half the volume is taken up by cooling fins, which are shrouded from view on three sides. The cellular antennas and radio gear are packed into the remaining space, with only a silver dollar sized GPS antenna poking out of the top. Samsung’s reps said installing it is as easy as bolting it to a pole and plugging in electric and fiber optic cables.

Keep in mind, though, what it is and what it isn’t.

It is a high bandwidth, millimeter wave cell site that meets 5G specs in a small package (Samsung claims it can deliver broadband at 10 gigabits per second). Presuming it works as advertised, it’s a solution for a particular set of circumstances.

It isn’t a revolution in small cell engineering or solution that’ll work in all, or even most, circumstances. The frequency band it’s designed for – 28 MHz – is just one of many that mobile carriers use. Most are lower frequency bands that require bigger antennas – millimeter waves use millimeter antennas, which makes it easier to cram everything into one box. Different bands and applications can also have different power requirements. A small cell site designed for another band will probably look different. Particularly if it’s intended to serve 4G as well as 5G customers, which this Samsung unit isn’t.

Even so, Samsung’s fully integrated small cell unit is an important benchmark for the industry. Making small cells smaller and duller will go a long way toward overcoming aesthetic objections and meeting mechanical design standards. The more small cells look like the photo above, and the less they look like the photo below, the easier everyone’s job will be.

Small cell olympic blvd 22oct2019

5G phone prices start high while 5G availability is low

by Steve Blum • , , ,

5g mwca 12sep2018

The first 5G capable smart phones are beginning the hit the market, and already there’s wailing about sticker shock – a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G will cost $1,300 and only be available through Verizon, at least for the next few months. That’s a lot of money for an Android phone (although not exactly nosebleed territory for iOS fans). But it doesn’t say much about what it’s going to cost the average consumer to upgrade to 5G, by the time the average consumer can find 5G service.

The initial price of 5G phones isn’t indicative of anything except manufacturers starting at the top of the marginal price curve and getting ready for a quick downhill run. As manufacturing ramps up, and product bugs are squashed, the price will come down.

The first target market is technophiles – people who will buy it because it’s new tech. That’s probably a six-figure market in the U.S. They’ll pay the most. Second target market is early adopters – people who perceive a significant benefit from the increased performance 5G phones presumably will offer. That market is probably in the seven figure range. By the time 5G phones break out into the general market – eight and nine figures – price points will be in familiar, 4G territory.

Hardware and service adoption will follow service availability, and that will be the limiting factor for 5G uptake over the next two to three years. There’s very little 5G service available right now, and commercial-scale deployments won’t begin until next year. What we’re seeing from carriers now are pilot projects aimed at preparing for the buildout that’ll begin in 2020 and continue for the next five to ten years.

There’s no need for manufacturers to rush into 5G production or push down phone prices in the coming year. They’re wisely positioning themselves for the long haul.

5G phones must clear economic, technical hurdles before breaking into the mass market

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The market for new smartphones is slowing. The global market is approaching saturation, where everyone who might use one has one, and annual sales are dropping. The pace of improvements is slowing, too. The marginal attraction of new apps and more powerful and faster hardware is diminishing.

According to a story in Digital Trends by Andy Boxall, the tide turned last year…

In 2018, smartphone sales numbers stopped growing, according to two data analysis companies, Strategy Analytics and Counterpoint Research. Strategy Analytics executive director Neil Mawston wrote in his guide to the latest figures that it’s the “first time ever in history the global smartphone market has declined on a full year basis. It is a landmark event”…

This was a five-percent drop over the 1.51 billion sold in 2017, and when you’re talking about billions of phones, a five-percent drop is relatively substantial.

That’s a problem for smartphone manufacturers, but hope is on the horizon. 5G networks need 5G-capable smartphones, and over the next five years that will be the primary driver of upgrades and new phone sales.

I don’t expect to see anything significant in 2019, and only the bleeding edge, technophile segment will be significant in 2020. What happens after that depends on how mobile carriers address two problems, one economic and one technical.

A mass market stampede toward 5G phones won’t happen until mass market 5G service is available. That build out will happen slower than mobile carriers have led city councils and county boards of supervisors to believe. And it will be far from comprehensive – the true benefits that will justify a kilobuck smartphone purchase will only be available in urban areas with high revenue potential for carriers.

The big technical question that hasn’t been answered is battery life. 5G service requires more intensive processing, which burns up energy, as do faster bit rates generally. The first units on the market won’t be optimised – can’t be until real consumers start using and abusing them in the wild – so it will be at least another year – 2021 – before manufacturers and carriers really understand power budgets. But 5G smartphones will burn through battery life faster than 4G phones, and that’s a problem yet to be solved.

5G smartphones, systems ready for 2019 exhibition season

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

It’s a lot like spring training. Mobile 5G service is moving into the “proof of concept” stage, according to a joint press release from Samsung and Verizon. They trotted out a design they intend to offer to consumers “in the first half of 2019” at a Qualcomm meeting this week.

Both Verizon and AT&T plan to light up very limited 5G (or in Verizon’s case, near–5G) networks in several U.S. cities by the end of the month. Those, too, will be demonstration and testing platforms, rather than full-on, consumer facing service. And it’ll be fixed – not mobile – service, delivered to people in homes and businesses via WiFi “pucks” (as AT&T describes them).

Those are workouts, not regular season games, and they’re necessary. It’s one thing to develop standards and design new systems, it’s quite another to deploy them in the wild. Paying customers will evaluate the service based on their expectations, not on design specs. Cell sites will go where terrain, access and capital budgets allow. Smartphones – the critical link in the system – have to fulfil those expectations while working within network constraints.

It’s no surprise that Apple plans to sit out this next round in the 5G deployment saga. According to a story in Bloomberg, the company is sticking to its playbook and waiting for the dust to settle before adopting the new standard…

As with 3G and 4G, the two previous generations of mobile technology, Apple will wait as long as a year after the initial deployment of the new networks before its main product gets the capability to access them, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the company’s plans.

Apple’s previous calculations – proven correct – were that the new networks and the first versions of rival smartphones would come with problems such as spotty coverage, making consumers less compelled to immediately make the jump.

With its 5G smartphone still just a proof of concept product, Samsung is unlikely to get enough into the market next year to make much of a dent in demand, but it will earn a place in the spotlight for being first. We won’t see 5G service deployed to a meaningful degree in 2019 but, like Cactus League baseball, it’ll still be a lot of fun to watch.

Connected, automated homes are the new frontier for big consumer electronics companies

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Home automation, powered by cloud-based artificial intelligence, is now a mainstream product category, taking center stage at the major consumer electronics companies’ booths at CES. The huge 4K and 8K screens that dominated Samsung’s display the past few years were stuck in a back corner, while the main aisles were lined with home appliances with voice recognition systems and driven by artificial intelligence.

LG led its press conference with artificial intelligence, via both its in-house platform and Google Assistant. Its flag bearer is CLOi, a smart speaker shaped like a cute little robot with expressive eyes that’s “capable of physical and emotional interaction”, according to marketing VP David VanderWaal.

Yes. It is.

He asked “what’s for dinner”? CLOi just blinked and stared at him. “CLOi, are you talking to me yet? What recipes can I make with chicken?” More blinks and stares. Instead of a virtual June Cleaver, VanderWaal was dancing with Peg Bundy. Sorry guys, AI won’t be a wormhole back to the 50s.

In-house AI platforms might still be a work in progress, but Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are ready for prime time and are also included in products from major manufacturers. When VanderWaal invoked Google Assistant during his demo, it responded flawlessly.

There was no shortage of third-party home automation hubs on display, many of them claiming AI capabilities and universal compatibility, but the prospects for most are fading. The one bright spot remains vertical markets, such as home security or commercial properties, where professional installation and support makes economic sense.

Consumers don’t want to wrestle with the things they buy – it’s a lot easier to flip a light switch than it is to wrestle with a Z-wave network or hack at automation scripts. When you speak a command and it just works though, it’s a mainstream product.

Apple iOS gaining on Android in U.S. and China

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Apple and Samsung are in a dead heat in the U.S. Both companies captured 35% of smartphone sales for three months ending in August of this year, according to Kantar Wordpanel, a market research firm based in London. Apple is showing strength in carrier distribution channels, particularly with Verizon…

“Apple maintained strong momentum in the US one month before the release of iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, and grew its sales share by 3.7 percentage points year-on-year, compared to Samsung’s growth of 0.8 percentage points,” [Dominic Sunnebo, Global Business Unit Director at Kantar Worldpanel said]. “Weaker sales through Verizon hurt Samsung as Apple approached a 50% share within the largest US carrier – an even higher proportion than at AT&T, a traditional iPhone stronghold.”

Kantar bases its market share estimates on operating system sales data. Overall, Android has a commanding lead, with 63% of the U.S. market. But Apple is gaining ground. Its 35% share of operating system sales is up 4% from the same period a year ago, while Android’s share has dropped 3%.

Apple also appears to be benefitting from the demise of the Windows mobile operating system, which dropped from 2% of the U.S. market to 1%. Blackberry is in even worse shape, with just 0.3% U.S. market share.

In China, the world’s biggest smart phone market, Apple’s iOS gained 4% year over year, climbing to 18% market share, while Android dropped 4% to 82% – still a commanding lead. Windows is at a big fat zero percent in China, which is the principal reason its worldwide share crashed to virtually nothing, according to some estimates.

Huawei is the leading manufacturer in China, with 31% of smartphone sales. BBK Electronics, which sells under the Oppo and Vivo brands, is second with 20% and Apple is third. “The flagship iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus were the two top-selling models in urban China during the period”, according to Kantar’s press release.

Customers love their phones, mobile service not so much

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Even though U.S. consumers feel jilted by their Internet service providers, they’re still in love with their smartphones. According to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) telecommunications survey, smartphone makers rate a 79 on a 100 point scale, one point up from last year and only three points behind the most highly rated industry sectors – consumer electronics (at least the television and video player side of the business) and full service restaurants.

Apple edged out Samsung for most highly rated manufacturer, scoring 81 points, a gain of one. Samsung wasn’t far behind, getting an 80, which was unchanged from 2015. Satisfaction fell off sharply after that, though, with Motorola/Lenovo in third place with 77, HTC in fourth with 75, and LG and Microsoft/Nokia tying for fifth at 74. “All others” got 73 out of 100.

When individual models are rated, it’s Samsung that comes out on top. Its Galaxy Note5 scored an 86, with Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus close behind at 85. HTC’s Desire and LG’s Leon LTE were at the bottom of the list, both receiving a rating of 67.

Mobile carriers don’t do as good a job satisfying U.S. subscribers as the manufacturers. The industry overall rated a satisfaction score of 71 out of 100, as did AT&T and Verizon. Sprint was at the bottom with 70 and T-Mobile did the best of the big four with a 74. Subscribers like both the brick and mortar and web store experience offered by the carriers, as well as network coverage and call clarity. The highest level of dissatisfaction was with call centers, service plan choices and mobile broadband speeds and reliability.

Security and simplicity keep Sailfish, Tizen hopes alive

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Just enough to start the day.

Two alternative, Linux-based smart phone operating systems are still in the game, but might be headed towards greener markets. Version 3.0 of the Tizen OS is due out in September and the Sailfish OS has a new, $12 million lifeline.

Tizen is an open source project that’s largely driven by Samsung. It started out as an alternative to Android and a replacement for Bada, Samsung’s previous in-house OS. So far, it hasn’t found much traction in the mobile phone market, despite Samsung’s dominance of that sector. A couple of Samsung smart phones with Tizen installed shipped to India, but so far haven’t done very well.

On the other hand, Samsung is installing Tizen on its Gear smart watch, as well as smart TVs and other consumer electronics products that are less dependent on the good will of independent app developers. The 3.0 upgrade is pitched as “IoT ready”, according to an article in PC World with support for “refrigerators, light bulbs, washing machines, and even vacuum cleaners”. It could evolve into the OS of choice for connected devices, which are more or less self-contained and don’t need third party apps or services.

So long as it has a sugar daddy with deep pockets and a clear business case, the Tizen project will push ahead and its adoption rate will continue to grow, even if it’s just within the Samsung universe.

It’s harder to see where Sailfish is heading, or even why anyone would want to invest in its parent company, Jolla. A plan to make and sell a tablet fizzled out, and its only ray of hope is Turing Robotics’ decision to move from California to Finland and switch to Sailfish, seeking to leverage tougher privacy laws into a high security selling proposition. But given the increasingly heated battle between tech companies and the U.S. government, and Blackberry’s willingness to hand over encryption keys to Canadian authorities, there might be a market opening for Turing and Jolla.