Samsung gets aggressive as rivals sit in 5G purgatory

With MWC 2020 quickly becoming a dud, Samsung didn’t hang around to unveil three new 5G smartphones, a foldable device and its latest earbuds.

If there was ever a time for Samsung to go big and noisy with a product launch, now is it. Huawei’s smartphone division is sprinting into the realms of irrelevance while Apple is unlikely to make waves until the end of the year. Aside from a few outliers, Samsung effectively has a monopoly on the consumers attention when it comes to tier-one smartphone launches.

At its ‘Unpacked’ event in San Francisco, Samsung released the Galaxy S20 series (S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra), a foldable device known as the Galaxy Z Flip and the new Galaxy Buds+, as well as a number of interesting partnerships.

“Samsung has a huge start over rivals in 5G with a broad range of devices,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight.

“There has been no better time for Samsung to increase its market share given Huawei’s current woes and Apple yet to release a 5G iPhone. Support for sub-6Ghz, mmWave technology and dynamic spectrum sharing ensures that its 5G devices will appeal globally. This is paramount as mmWave is being positioned as the ‘best’ of 5G, a topic that will emerge as a strong theme throughout 2020 as telcos roll out networks.”

As with many of these launches, there isn’t a huge amount of innovation in the phone aside from incremental change. Sure, it has 5G which is faster than 4G, 8K which is better than 4K, an AI-supercharged camera which is better than a normal one, but it is bells and whistles which would more likely fall into the ‘best in class’ category as opposed to innovation.

That said, you have to give credit where it is due, the team has launched a series of devices which beat rivals to the punch, look good and are generally receiving positive reviews. In the absence of genuine innovation, Samsung seems to have created an excellent product, an adequate substitute.

Looking at the development of the ecosystem, there are a number of interesting announcements, including Netflix and Google.

“In the coming months, Samsung mobile users will have access to a whole host of new and exciting bonus content based on some of your favourite Netflix Originals, accessible through Samsung Daily and Samsung channels,” said Netflix’s Chief Marketing Officer, Jackie Lee-Joe.

“Thanks to 5G, the video calls are higher quality, and that makes you feel more connected to the person you’re talking to,” said Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP of Platforms and Ecosystems at Google. “Also, with Duo built right into Galaxy’s native apps, we can help people connect much more seamlessly, without interruption.”

Neither of these partnerships will create a buying position alone, but this is all about the incremental gains. An excellent camera, 5G, 8K video, original and unique content, and a better software experience all add-up to make a compelling product. Another interesting element is the focus on gaming.

“Another key emphasis for Samsung on the Galaxy S20 is gaming performance. The new devices are using a display with an extremely high refresh rate of 120Hz with a 240Hz input sensor which, when coupled with 5G, would give gamers the quickest reactions of any mobile gaming solution,” said Daniel Gleeson, Principal Analyst, Consumer Technology at Omdia.

“Samsung is so confident in the gaming capabilities of the new Galaxy S20 that they have announced a partnership with gaming company, Forza Street, with cross play with PC gamers enabled.”

Gaming is quickly becoming mainstream as more immersive and complex titles are moved onto or designed for the mobile platform. The segment is growing rapidly, and OEMs and telcos alike have to be paying much more attention to how experiences can be customised for gaming.

While there are incremental gains to consider across all areas of the device, 5G included, interesting partnerships and a homage to the rising popularity of gaming, this does not appear to be a product launch which is out of the ordinary. We imagine Samsung’s competitors will create a product which is incredibly similar. The difference will be marketing dollars.

The ‘Unpacked’ event is a marketing exercise learned from Apple to cultivate the brand, while Samsung also has an opportunity to capitalise on the Huawei woes and steal Android customers. Xiaomi and OnePlus might have something to say about this, but thanks to an early launch date, Samsung has an excellent opportunity to make a march on market share and consolidate its market leading position. It just has to be clever and bold with marketing campaigns. Money speaks more than innovation currently.

IBC 2019: is 4K anything more than hype?

While some people are still unsure whether there is any value in downloading content in HD over SD, the 4K and 8K hype is continuing to build; but is there any point in it?

For the ‘man on the street’, technology often looks like another language. Acronyms are a speciality of the TMT industry, and each day there seems to be another buzzword to keep track of. And when you look the development of the content world, paying particular attention to 4K and 8K, you have to wonder what the point actually is.

Mike Zink, VP of Technology at Warner Bros, summed up the point pretty simply. Having just been to IFA in Berlin, Zink commented that almost every stand had an 8K TV on it. It is a product which is increasingly getting pushed onto consumers, but there is very little 8K content to actually justify the expenditure on the new technology.

Some analysts and commentators might suggest that it is a sensible decision for the consumer to purchase a product which is laden with future-proofed technology, however we think it is simply a ruse to bleed as many dollars out of already strained wallets.

And when you look at the numbers, the market penetration of 4K (we’re not even going to look at 8K right now) is steadily creeping up, but it is not as high as you would expect.

Maria Rua Aguete of IHS Markit estimates market penetration of 4K TVs across Europe is 46%. North America exceeds this percentage, though penetration drops to 42% when you look at China and further down to 19% in Japan. The consumer is being subjected to an assault of 8K messaging, though the 4K evolution is still a work in progress.

Another challenge which the industry faces is a lack of 4K content. In Europe, there is 4K content, though it is one of the few areas where the expenditure is partially justified by experience.

Without the content, is there any point in a 4K TV purchase? And if the market penetration does not increase, will the content creators be swaying into the additional expense of creating 4K content? It is a chicken and egg situation, where those who have been convinced to purchase a 4K TV are ending up in a suspect position.

Perhaps this is a reality check which some in the industry will welcome. The telcos, for instance, which be scratching their heads to figure out how they deliver the desired consumer experience. The increased consumption of video is already placing strain on the network, and 4K/8K would certainly make the creaks louder.

This is perhaps something which the content industry is missing. There is an expectation the infrastructure will be there to deliver the experience, though this might not always be the case.

The telcos are under some pretty severe pressure at the moment. Not only do they have to worry about the deployment of 5G networks, a pretty expensive job to say the least, there are demands on the home broadband side as well. If more consumers are expecting 4K content in their living room, they might end up a bit disappointed.

Trends in the connectivity world are heading the right direction, ‘fibre-first’ is a mentality which is being championed by a huge number of telcos, but are these trends moving fast enough?

If you are thinking about buying a 4K/8K TV right now, it might not be worth the extra investment. Not only is the supporting content thin on the ground, but you should also seriously consider whether you have a broadband connection which can underpin the desired experience.

SK Telecom and Samsung reckon we need 8K TV over 5G

Korean tech giant Samsung has teamed up with compatriot operator SK Telecoms to develop what they claim will be the world’s first 5G 8K TV.

On one level this should just be as simple as whacking a 5G modem into an 8K telly, but there seems to be more to it than that, hence the announcement. SK Telecom says that only when it applies mobile edge computing and network-based media processing to its 5G network will it be able to achieve seamless transmission of 8K video. The fact that those sorts of technologies are in the 5G roadmap anyway is beside the point.

Which brings us to the likely real reason for this announcement: to generate positive publicity for both companies. 5G has long been in danger of being a technological solution in search of a problem and the same could certainly be said of 8K video, in a world that is still trying to work out whether it sees much value in 4K.

“The 5G-8K TV is the culmination of ultra-low latency 5G networks combined with ultra-high definition TV technology,” said Park Jin-hyo, CTO and Head of ICT R&D Center at SK Telecom. “5G technology will help make the world of hyper media a reality.” Hyper media seems to refer to telly augmented by all kinds of other internet gimmickry.

Short of producing a 5G dongle it’s not clear what Samsung is bringing to the project other than cash and its consumer electronics brand. Nowhere is it explained why it’s preferable to deliver all this hyper media goodness over 5G rather than fibre, nor is it openly discussed what the minimum screen size would be beneath which the human eye is unable to discern any difference between 4K and 8K. But these are just details that shouldn’t detract from our jubilation that the 5G 8K era is almost upon us.