SAN JOSE, Calif. — As many as 525 million 5G handsets will ship in 2023, up from 37 million this year, according to a new forecast from IHS Markit. 5G handsets will outpace initial LTE devices by a factor of six, making it the fastest cellular rollout to date.

The prediction is surprisingly bullish given the stately pace at which U.S. carriers are setting up their 5G networks. About 10 U.S. cities now have 5G service, with another 10 coming online by the end of the year, IHS estimates.

“I’ve upgraded my forecast for 2019 from about 11 million to nearly 37 million 5G handsets due to the fact that there are more than 20 5G smartphone designs that OEMs are pushing out,” said Wayne Lam, a smartphone analyst for IHS Markit. “I could be too optimistic, but this is a very different situation than the LTE transition.”

“LTE was mainly driven by U.S. carriers, but with 5G, it’s a pretty global rollout, with a fair amount of it in countries such as Korea, the U.K., and Switzerland,” said Francis Sideco, a vice president of technology for IHS Markit.

So far, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Samsung, and Xiaomi are among companies who have announced or shipped 5G handsets.

Samsung rolled out a version of its Galaxy 10 smartphone in Korea using its own Exynos 5100 modem to support 5G, initially just in sub-6-GHz bands, according to a teardown from TechInsights. Huawei is said to be supplying its own 5G modem as well, also just in sub-6-GHz bands.

5G handsets in the U.S. from Samsung and others are expected to use the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 and more recently announced X55 modems. Apple is expected to use Intel’s XMM 8160 5G modem expected to ship in iPhones in 2020.

“There is a market imperative for Apple to be ready with 5G in the second half of 2020 — that is the Chinese market,” said Lam. “Currently, Intel is Apple’s modem supplier of record; however, there has been chatter about its readiness. I still put my money down on Intel modems being in Apple iPhones, but that can change if the modem development is delayed.”

IHS Markit The 5G handset rollout could rise faster than the shift to LTE. (Image: IHS Markit)

Mobile broadband is just one dimension of 5G. The 3GPP’s Release 16, due late this year, will enable peak data rates of 20-Gbps downlink and 10-Gbps uplink. The group also plans a basket of diverse capabilities for 5G.

Pending 5G capabilities include 4-ms user-plane latency and 20-ms control-plane latency for mission-critical services such as wireless robots on the factory floor. In addition, 5G will support massive numbers of IoT connections, opening up new potential in areas such as precision agriculture.

“This next phase of implementation and rollout will trigger a race among mobile network operators to meet and take advantage of these performance enhancements,” Sideco said.

In a whitepaper on 5G, IHS outlined some of the spectrum advances that 5G brings. The standard will support 400-MHz channels in millimeter-wave (mmWave) bands. Using carrier aggregation bands can be combined to deliver 800-MHz channels in Release 15 and 1.2-GHz channels in Release 16.

So far, carriers are finding the unfamiliar mmWave channels challenging to manage. Distances are severely limited unless they can master relatively complex massive MIMO antenna and beamforming techniques.