TOKYO/BARCELONA, Spain -- Xiaomi and ZTE have unveiled plans to roll out smartphones compatible with fifth-generation wireless networks before the end of the year, underscoring the ambitions of Chinese smartphone makers to take an early lead in the next wave of handsets.
Xiaomi unveiled the Mi Mix 3 5G, which upgrades the existing Mi Mix 3 with Qualcomm's 5G compatible processor and modem, ahead of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona which began on Monday. It said the model would hit the market by May in some markets, with a starting price of 599 euros ($680), making it one of the most affordable and earliest 5G handset offerings so far.
On Monday, major Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE unveiled the Axon10 Pro, its first 5G compatible smartphone, which it said would go on sale during the first half of the year in Europe and China. The company did not disclose a price tag for the device.
ZTE also announced that it was carrying out 5G trials with some 30 telecommunications companies in Europe and elsewhere. Xu Feng, CEO of the company's mobile devices division, said it would "increase partnerships around the world" and accelerate preparation for the commercialization of 5G.
The announcements follow in the footsteps of China's Huawei Technologies, which unveiled the foldable, 5G compatible Mate X handset on February 24. Huawei said the model would be priced at 2,299 euros and would be available from June this year.
South Korea's Samsung Electronics has also announced the release of new 5G compatible smartphones later this year. Its peer LG Electronics has announced its 5G compatible V50 ThinQ smartphone in Barcelona, along with a display-equipped case that enables the device to function like a foldable phone, but the company did not give a release date.
Next generation 5G capability is expected to enable faster data transmission and lower latency, features that will be vital for advanced technologies such as autonomous driving and surgery. Durga Malladi, Qualcomm's Senior Vice President, said he expected smartphones to kick off "great growth momentum" in 5G adoption between now and next year.
Skeptics say, however, that the use cases for 5G in smartphones remain unclear.
"People can watch movies and play games just fine with current 4G networks," said Hiroshi Hayase, senior director at IHS Markit.
The aggressive rollout plans come as handset makers try to revamp demand amid lackluster sales. Global smartphone shipments in 2018 fell 4.1% from the previous year to 1.4 billion units, according to research firm International Data Corporation.
The early launches mean that 5G compatible smartphones will be available before the network is installed in most countries.
South Korea aims to become the first country to offer a smartphone-accessible consumer 5G mobile network, with major mobile carriers gearing up for a rollout in March. In the U.S., Sprint is planning to launch the country's first commercial 5G services in May in four cities. But for most markets, including China, nationwide commercial rollout is not expected until next year.
Nikkei staff writer Takashi Kawakami in Barcelona contributed to this story