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Cheaper 5G phones are on the way. Here’s how much they’ll cost

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A big reason why so few people use superfast 5G wireless Internet is the sky-high cost of compatible phones. But those lofty prices are about to drop.

Qualcomm on Tuesday announced a new set of chips for low-end 5G phones that will cost $300 to $500, when available in the next six months. Phone makers planning to sell the devices include HMD Global, LG Electronics, Motorola, SHARP, TCL, and Wingtech, Qualcomm said.

“Driving the expansion of 5G into the Snapdragon 6-series has the potential to make 5G accessible to more than 2 billion smartphone users around the world,” Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon said in a statement.

The announcement comes a little over a year after Qualcomm debuted dozens of phones with its high-end 5G chips at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. But most of those phones cost $1,000 or more.

The cheaper phones could come just in time for the slowing mobile market, which has been hit by weakening consumer-demand for devices and manufacturing difficulties. Smartphone sales plunged 20% in the first quarter from a year earlier, the sharpest decline on record, according to market tracker Gartner, as the global pandemic forced wireless carriers to shutter stores worldwide.

Meanwhile, despite the pandemic, carriers continue to expand their 5G networks, which will eventually offer download speeds 10 to 100-times faster than average 4G LTE connections.

The new low-cost 5G chips from Qualcomm aren’t as high-performing as the company’s more expensive chips. Carriers are using many different frequencies for 5G, from typical cellular airwave bands like 700 MHz to much higher frequencies like 39 GHz. Phones with Qualcomm’s more expensive chips can handle the full range, but phones with the new chips, called the Snapdragon 690, will be unable to reach the higher frequency bands, sometimes referred to as millimeter wave bands.

Still, Qualcomm has pushed some features previously available only on its more expensive chip offerings into the 690. For example, the new 690 supports phone screen resolutions up to 4K with HDR for more accurate color displays.

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