With Qualcomm and Intel (and a few others) leading the charge toward 5G deployment, the 4G era is coming to a close. But, it’s going to go out with a bang — the Qualcomm X16 modem found on the new Snapdragon 835 SoC makes Gigabit LTE speeds possible. That means 1 Gbps download speeds — in theory, anyway. By all accounts, the first Snapdragon 835 phone to market will be the Samsung Galaxy S8 when it arrives late next month, but at Mobile World Congress this weekend, ZTE wants you to know they have one coming up, too.
Currently dubbed the Gigabit Phone, ZTE isn’t releasing any details about the phone, nor a possible release date or price. What they are doing is putting on a demo at MWC, where they’ll show off those Gigabit download speeds. Just one problem — Barcelona doesn’t have a Gigabit network! In fact, the only Gigabit network we know of just went live this month in Sydney, Australia as part of a joint project involving Qualcomm, Telstra, Netgear, and Ericsson.
So, how is ZTE showing off these Gigabit speeds? Well, ZTE’s pretty good at creating their own network equipment — they have their own mini Gigabit network, based on their Pre5G Giga+ MBB technology. ZTE is one of the many players looking to cash in on the network side of 5G, so the demonstration of their networking equipment this weekend might be just as important as the demonstration of the phone.
With the Gigabit Phone, ZTE isn’t quite showing off 5G technology (for starters, 5G hasn’t yet been defined by 3GPP, a quasi-governing body for network technology). But, chances are 5G networks will require the use of mmWave and sub-6.0 GHz bands, something Qualcomm’s X16 modem isn’t equipped to do. Qualcomm has announced their 5G-ready X50 modem, but we won’t be seeing that in consumer handsets for some time.
Instead, Gigabit LTE is poised to be a 4.5G of sorts, similar to what HSPA+ was in the early days of the 4G era. The upside is that the increased speeds will make streaming apps possible (instead of having to download them) and would enable smooth streaming of high bitrate audio and 4K video. The downside, as you might have guessed, is that you’ll tear through your data cap doing those things. Granted, the major carriers are once again offering unlimited data plans, but with these kinds of speeds and file sizes, you might be running into those soft 20+ GB caps and setting up tenancy in throttling town.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We might not be seeing Gigabit networks in the United States this year, and if that’s the case, having a Gigabit phone won’t do you much good. There is some upside, though — you’d definitely be able to take full advantage of the fastest speeds your carrier has to offer.
ZTE’s new phone doesn’t have a final name, release date, or price yet. With a Forbes report suggesting that Samsung has first dibs on the 835 SoC, chances are this phone will come out after the Galaxy S8, which should also be a Gigabit phone. There’s even a chance that the ZTE Gigabit Phone is really just the follow-up to last year’s excellent Axon 7, but we won’t know way or the other until later in the year.