Why many smartphones don’t support all 5G bands in India.

5G has become one of the hottest topics of recent times, and for good reason – the next generation of cellular connectivity has the potential to transform many industries when fully deployed.

However, in its current state, there are some unknown factors regarding 5G in India. Should purchasers keep down their positive thinking until more subtleties arise? Smartphone companies on the other hand are increasingly showing up, with the number of devices being 5G enabled today.

While the benefits of 5G are undeniable, a new question has arisen recently: Will today's 5G phones still support 5G when the network is ready?

The reason for this puzzlement has its roots in the choice of smartphone companies to not offer support for the full spectrum of 5G bands. For example, if a device only supports one band, but the 5G network in their area operates on a different frequency, they won't be able to use 5G on their phone.

However, that example would be a gross exaggeration of the problem. In fact, OEMs work closely with telecom companies, governments, and chipset suppliers to understand the status of the 5G rollout and band selection before making a decision. For example, India is currently expected to start working on the N78 band (3500 MHz) in the first phase - and so brands are currently prioritizing support for that band and dropping support for the rest, This is the reason why many phones only have the N78 band...

Something similar happened during the transition to 4G

And contrary to popular belief, it's not just a decision driven by greed. Along with the cost savings, it also comes with several other benefits, especially for a market like India. Furthermore, this isn't the first run-through this is going on. Even in the case of 4G smartphones, many OEMs enable only those bands that are relevant to the region.

Curious? Let's take a deeper look at how cellular networks work to understand why smartphone companies can't go wrong with not offering full 5G band support.

How 5G Works on Smartphones

We're going to get technical here, so feel free to skip to the next section if you're only here for the big answer.

A cell phone's cell network is empowered by three significant parts: the RF front-end, the RF handset, and the modem. The radiofrequency is received by the front-end in an analog format, processed by the transceiver, and converted into a digital signal for the modem.

For example, on newer Qualcomm modem RF systems such as the QTM525 (Snapdragon X55), multi-mode 5G modems only include the elements needed to process high-band networks, commonly known as mmWave. Qualcomm tells us that it is troublesome for smartphone creators to optimize such tall frequencies in little frame components.

The components needed for mid-and low-band 5G are kept outside of the main processor, as brands typically prefer to customize how much sub-6 GHz spectrum is to support. This allows for a more flexible design with a higher level of standardization.

Customizable components are placed outside the main processor.

This is where things start to get complicated. 5G networks can be deployed in frequencies ranging from approximately 700 MHz to 5 GHz, which is too wide a spectrum to be controlled via a single RF chain that includes elements such as power amplifiers, duplexers, diplexers, filters. Dependent on frequency.

5G in sub-6 frequencies (specifically the 3.3-3.7 GHz band) is widely deployed globally and is being made available in India as well. As such, any handset that supports these frequencies can receive signals while roaming in India as well as abroad and thus avail 5G services.

In short, the 3.3-3.7 GHz band 5G is expected to be the most common form of 5G in the future, providing the right balance between speed and network strength. Also to enhance capacity and user experience, operators are deploying mmWave in 26 GHz or 28 GHz across the world. India has also provided 26 GHz for 5G.

What Smartphone Manufacturers Can Optimize

In India, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had allocated a 5G test spectrum in 700 MHz, 3.3-3.6 GHz, and 24.25-28.5 GHz bands to Airtel, Jio, and Vodafone Idea to develop India-specific use cases. 

But smartphones are usually not designed for each country separately. Using legacy technologies would mean using the same SoC and its 5G capabilities around the world, greatly increasing the complexity.

Why less 5G Bands Are Actually Good Now

For each additional set of bands, the device will require additional RF series complexes. Take for example the Xiaomi Mi 11X, which supports only the N77 and N78 bands in India. If it were to be compatible with more bands, it would require a complete set of RF front-end parts such as power amplifiers, denoisers, filters, switches, and more.

As with all electronics, adding additional hardware should be avoided as far as possible. In our example of a 5G smartphone, having such additional components would increase the bill of materials, take up valuable space inside the body, consume more power, increase testing and optimization efforts.

The selection of 5G bands is a part of the hardware design phase.

A Snapdragon 888 is capable of supporting all 5G bands, but which one is capable depends on the brand's strategy for each market.

This is why 5G bands can't be enabled via an OTA update alone - because that upgrade would require specific hardware components that are absent in the first place.

In India, where initial trials are being conducted in the mid-band, manufacturers try and prioritize those frequencies, so when 5G networks are ready, consumers can taste it. In the unlikely event that India chooses to operate in an entirely different frequency range, users will not be able to experience 5G.

Consumers should not worry.

The whole industry will move forward together.

Smartphone companies, telecom operators, chipset makers, and the government work together and share knowledge to create the best-suited offering for each market. This means that even if one of them makes the wrong move, the other will ensure that the consumer has an optimal experience. Rest assured that even if a device supports only one 5G band, this is a decision made by the OEM to the best of their knowledge and information available.

One should also remember that even if 5G arrives prematurely, in the early years, chances are it will be expensive and barely faster than 4G - so consumers won't really miss anything unless they Do not plan to use the budget. 4G devices for a really long time.

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