New 5G phones may not get much cheaper for 2-3 years

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There are a handful of 5G phones available right now – if you're lucky enough to live in an area covered by the early rollout of the next generation network – and they all have one thing in common. The cost.

At the moment you can only purchase flagship 5G smartphones, and with a high cost and limited 5G coverage to make full use of them on (they work fine on 4G as well), many prospective consumers are priced out of the market.

Not that we'd recommend anyone dip their toe into the 5G water yet, with such limited coverage meaning it's difficult to take proper advantage of the increased speeds it offers, but it appears that consumers won't be the only ones holding off for a while.

TechRadar attended a round-table interview with Samsung CEO, DJ Koh, saying that he expects consumers to turn to 5G in the next two to three years, once their current contract comes up for renewal, networks improve coverage, and mid-range 5G devices become available.

Explaining that smartphones tend to last longer these days, "their lifespan is nearly 2.5 or even 3 years" Koh told us, Samsung expects the S10 5G to still provide a solid experience for those interested in getting a 5G device in 2020.

That means the pressure could be off Samsung to produce affordable or cheap 5G phones in the next 12-18 months.

"When carriers expand 5G coverage, customers [will make the switch] when they come to renew [their phone contract] in two to three years," Koh explained while adding "then I expect much faster expansion than LTE."

Samsung is heavily rumored to launch at least one more 5G smartphone in 2019, but it looks set to be a variant of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 which will likely carry an even bigger price tag than the S10 5G – it will certainly be far from affordable.

Smartphones on the decline?

The fast expansion of 5G will be helped by the introduction of affordable 5G devices and while it's not clear if Samsung is planning any in the next year or so, Koh has a positive outlook on the current 5G situation.

"In 80 days we sold 1 million [S10 5G] devices [in Korea]... which is a good signal in terms of 5G deployment."

However, in the coming years it may not be a 5G smartphone that you’re hankering after, instead it may be a 5G smart device.

"Once 5G and Internet of Things era are available and expand quickly, we must think rather than smartphones", Koh explained. "we must think smart devices. Smartphones may decline, but new devices will emerge."

Those thoughts are echoed by Samsung's Head of Design, Kang Yun-Je, who said "in the future, people may not carry a phone as there may be another way to make fast communication, and you may not want to take a large screen with you. 5G will have a significant impact on the design of mobile devices."

What those 'smart devices' will be is yet to be defined, but Samsung already has other mobile devices such as tablets, smartwatches, fitness bands, earbuds and a 360 camera which could all benefit from 5G connectivity to provide various forms of communication.

And while we may not see budget 5G handsets in the next year or so, Koh did leave us with the teasing line of "next year is looking quite promising for 5G", so we'll have to wait and see what Samsung has to offer in 2020.

John McCann
Global Managing Editor

John joined TechRadar over a decade ago as Staff Writer for Phones, and over the years has built up a vast knowledge of the tech industry. He's interviewed CEOs from some of the world's biggest tech firms, visited their HQs and has appeared on live TV and radio, including Sky News, BBC News, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, LBC and BBC Radio 4. Originally specializing in phones, tablets and wearables, John is now TechRadar's resident automotive expert, reviewing the latest and greatest EVs and PHEVs on the market. John also looks after the day-to-day running of the site.