83% of the 24 5G Smartphones Introduced So Far Are OLED, Why 5G Is a Catalyst for OLEDs

Published December 18, 2019

The table below reveals the 24 5G smartphones we have seen so far. As indicated, 20 of them or 83% are using an OLED. Why is the OLED adoption attach rate so high? There are a few reasons.

5G Smartphone Display Technology, Size and Pricing

First, because 5G smartphones are high-end phones, buyers are willing to spend more and expect the best display technology.

Second, in China, the government is subsidizing the adoption of 5G by providing a subsidy of ~$100 to carriers and smartphone brands which makes it easier to afford the cost of a rigid or flexible OLED display.

Third, 5G smartphones will consume more power and will need to adopt an OLED if they intend to deliver close to the same battery life within the same thickness as 4G smartphones. Increased power will come from a separate 5G modem chip, the Qualcomm X50, when used with their high-end 5G processor, the Snapdragon 865. In addition, according to our friends at Counterpoint, 5G phones will require additional chips in the front-end module due to additional 5G frequencies, additional RF tuners, additional power management ICs for sub-6 GHz, extra passive ICs, additional fast charging ICs, etc. In total, for mmWave, they estimate the additional chip cost as $85 which will consume most of the $100 subsidy. However, with all the additional chips, these phones really would benefit from an OLED if they intend to maintain their thickness and power. A thin, flexible OLED would offset most of the thickness, weight and power penalties from moving to 5G. In addition, dark mode and LTPO will further widen the power savings by adopting OLEDs. We certainly see 5G as a catalyst for OLEDs.

While nearly all of the initial 5G smartphones were OLED, we are now seeing a flurry of lower-priced LCD 5G smartphones priced as low as $285 for the 6GB/64GB Redmi K30 5G. For consumers less concerned about the thickness, weight and power penalties and just want the lowest price, these low-end LCD 5G smartphones will be attractive.

Also negating some of the optimism around high-end 5G smartphones is the use of a 5G discrete modem chip which has caused existing 5G smartphones to overheat and drop to 4G. As ARS Technica pointed out in a 2012 Qualcomm press release, “Typically, the more chips that are involved in building a device, the more challenging it is to conserve battery life while maintaining performance. Consolidation means good things for your battery."

So, batteries will be challenged with this implementation of 5G, but will benefit from a thinner, flexible OLED which will not only consume less power, but also enable the use of a larger battery in the phone.

Image Description
Written by

Ross Young