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Complexity in 5G Devices Creates a Problem for Smart Phone OEMs, ABI Says

By Ken Briodagh July 24, 2020

Global tech market advisory firm, ABI Research, using the teardown expertise of Yole, recently unpacked nine 5G smartphones to discover that RF Front End (RFFE) content is evidently moving to full level integrated modem-RF system designs, which the firm says will be the key to success as the market advances to wider 5G adoption.

“The 5G smartphone market is set to rapidly expand in the next 12 months, with many mobile vendors looking to quickly develop their 5G portfolios,” said David McQueen, Research Director, ABI Research. “However, a host of extremely complex challenges lie ahead for smartphone vendors, which they must overcome to fully realize the 5G demand explosion across all tiers.”

The move to 5G requires an integration of the entire 5G cellular system design into OEMs’ devices, from modem-to-antenna, addressing all aspects of end-to-end performance. This complexity level includes the integration and deployment of new 5G modem and RFFE components, features, and functionalities, leading to substantial changes in the design of mobile devices.

“Smartphone OEMs are finding this change particularly challenging, as it makes their RFFE component procurement process and system design far more complex than ever. Unless adequately addressed, the burden brought about by the complexities of implementing 5G can lead to several issues, including lengthy product development cycles, more expensive devices, and huge constraints on device industrial designs,” McQueen explained.

The teardowns show there are already signs that several OEMs are moving away from RF component assembly and adopting 5G design from modem-to-antenna, ABI said. “Such a strategic approach has been carried out by few component suppliers in the market, thus far. Qualcomm is currently the only one able to offer an end-to-end product portfolio from modem-to-antenna, supplying products with end-to-end performance in fully integrated system designs,” says McQueen. However, he adds, “Third-party modem-RF system design will become a mainstream approach in support of many of the world’s top smartphone OEMs to solve their 5G conundrum, also influencing decision-making across all technologies, so Qualcomm is likely to be joined by others IF they can offer such turnkey solutions.”

These findings are from ABI Research’s 5G Teardowns Reveal Qualcomm’s RF Leadership Due  to Growing Design Complexity whitepaper. This whitepaper is part of the company’s 5G Devices, Smartphones and Wearables research service, which includes research, data, and ABI Insights.


Ken Briodagh is a storyteller, writer and editor with about two decades of experience under his belt. He is in love with technology and if he had his druthers would beta test everything from shoe phones to flying cars.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

Editorial Director

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