Verizon is adding a new 5G device to its lineup, this time the world’s first 5G PC from Lenovo, with a new $30 per month 5G device data plan.
The Flex 5G is available in the U.S. from Verizon starting June 18.
Lenovo’s Flex 5G PC (known as the Yoga in other countries) supports millimeter wave and sub-6 GHz 5G connectivity. That means it can tap Verizon’s millimeter wave 5G network that currently uses 28 GHz spectrum, as well as support for 37/39 GHz recently purchased at auction, and the carrier’s anticipated low-band 5G network once that’s rolled out later this year. The laptop also supports a wide range of LTE bands, so users can fall back to 4G if a 5G signal isn’t available.
The Flex 5G is exclusive to Verizon and launching first in the U.S., but Lenovo already has other operators, including EE in the U.K., Sunrise in Switzerland and China Mobile in China signed up for the product with dates and pricing to be announced later.
Matt Bereda, Lenovo’s vice president of Global Consumer Products for the Lenovo Intelligent Design Group team, believes the Flex, which uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx 5G Compute Platform coupled with Verizon’s Ultra Wideband 5G network, is going to be a game changer for unlocking 5G opportunity and changing the way people work with their computers, particularly in today’s world.
“Suddenly it’s not just the office that’s the place to get work done,” Bereda said during an interview with Fierce Wireless. He said Lenovo believes the Flex will change people’s behavior in terms of where they’ll expect lighting-speed connections, whether that’s in a home office, outside on a patio or at a cafe, or traveling.
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Verizon’s Ultra Wide Band 5G service is currently available in limited parts of 35 cities across the U.S., with plans to expand to more than 60 markets this year.
“This expectation for speed as well as security while connecting is going to be key and this product is really going to help bring that to life,” Bereda said, pointing to new capabilities enabled by the 5G expansion such as game streaming and real-time video editing and conferencing.
In terms of speeds, the Flex 5G is expected to deliver 10 times faster speeds versus 4G. In field tests, the convertible PC consistently delivered speeds up to 2 Gbps in a live network situation, according to Trey Paschal, Lenovo’s Sell-in Portfolio and Technology Head of 5G/Connected Business for the Lenovo ID group.
Verizon today introduced a new 5G connected device plan, which costs $30 per month for unlimited plans with an existing line (or $90 per month without) with access to unlimited 5G data, hotspot and 4K streaming, along with unlimited 4G LTE data and 15 GB hotspot data.
The Flex 5G, which can switch to tablet mode, costs $1,399.99 or $58.33 per month from Verizon with a two-year device payment plan. Verizon’s selling the PC through its online and My Verizon app channels.
Mobile productivity with PC horsepower
Despite uncertainties stemming from the COVID-19 health crisis, Bereda said Lenovo’s still seen huge engagement and a lot of interest in the Flex 5G connected PC from carrier partners.
“5G is coming and it’s going to come in a big way,” he said. “Of course it’s going to be big in the phone space but it also starts to open up a lot of opportunities in other device [categories] that will leverage the speed and the low-latency of what a 5G device can offer.”
Ericsson’s latest mobility report, released Tuesday, forecasts global 5G subscriptions will top 190 million by the end of 2020 and 2.8 billion by the end of 2025.
The Flex 5G is targeted toward consumers willing to pay a premium price for constant connectivity. That includes highly mobile individuals like business travelers and consumers who want to get the same productivity and security level from their PC that’s expected from smartphones.
Lenovo’s seen a dramatic uptick in PC sales over the last months as more people work remotely and consumers may be considering it’s time for an upgrade, according Bereda.
The Flex offers capabilities on a computing device with “much more horsepower, [ability] to get a lot more productivity-related activities done, as well as a much better entertainment experience” than a handset because of the large screen.
“There’s a lot of engineering work to get to something that small, that light while offering this level of capability and we’re really proud of that,” Bereda said of the fan-less 5G Flex laptop which has a wide-angle 14” touch screen and runs Windows 10.
Looking forward, Bereda sees 5G laptops poised as new levels of virtual reality come into play for applications like augmented training, for example, and telehealth visits that already rose during pandemic-related lockdowns.
Getting mmWave 5G into a laptop
Although there are already numerous devices with millimeter wave 5G support, getting 5G connectivity into a laptop is no minor task.
It’s taken nearly a year and a half to bring the first 5G PC to market since Lenovo first announced support for the Qualcomm computing platform in December 2018. During that time, a lot of engineering work went into not only supporting connectivity but also delivering the overall processing power that consumers expect from PCs and nearly 20-hour battery life.
As the platform is stainless steel, the team also had to address thermal challenges presented from adding a 5G module with mmWave support, according to Paschal. Overheating had been an issue for some of Samsung’s first mmWave 5G handset devices during early testing by the WSJ in the summer of 2019. For those, higher power consumption required by 5G caused reduced modem functionality and phones dropped the 5G signal in favor of 4G.
5G connectivity also demands a much stronger antenna system than a traditional laptop connecting via W-Fi and the Flex 5G required nine built-in antennae to ensure a solid data stream flow.
One might think if 5G handsets already support millimeter wave, getting mmWave antennas into a PC with more space shouldn’t be a problem. However, what people may not realize, Pashcal explained, is that the ground plane increases in a laptop, causing the antenna size to get bigger to match the level of performance.
“You had to put these nine antennas on the base, bigger [antennas] than in smartphones, while still keeping the mechanical and level of reliability up,” Paschal said. “It was extremely challenging.”
The new patented 5G antenna system, which Lenovo said became the industry’s smallest 5G module, is designed to ensure 5G coverage in both laptop and tablet mode.
Below is a list of band-support for Lenovo’s Flex 5G PC: