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Why the new Razr is 5G’s worst nightmare

  • 4 minute read
  • Published by Simon Rockman on 18 Dec 2019
  • Last modified 18 Dec 2019
Guest blog post by Simon Rockman, Editor at CW Journal

The world will beat a path to the door of the new Razr, but it’s a 4G phone at a time when the mobile industry wants people to migrate to 5G. If all the influencers, early adopters and cool kids make the Razr the phone to have of 2020, then 5G will take a back seat as “The Thing To Get”.

Ever since the iPhone reshaped the market mobile phones have got a bit boring. Gone is the innovation that led to the Motorola StarTac, Nokia 7650 and the Siemens Xelibri 3. All phones look like black rectangles. All the arguing over bezel size, notches, punch holes and integrated fingerprint readers is desperation over lack of innovation.

Which fails in the sub-text purpose of a phone. Here is the most personal possession you own. It’s filled with pictures of those who are dear to you, all your contacts and is your prime means of communication. It’s part of your identity and yet, for all the Hello Kitty and Batman cases it’s a homogeneous block. Just like everyone else’s.

But the new Razr is different. It’s the first phone in a decade which looks properly different. Just owning one marks you out as being a bit different. It’s expensive. Think £1500 or £70 a month on EE when it ships at the end of January. That’s good too because a high price confers quality.

It’s the device which restores the phone to convey the same message as jewellery. “Look at me, Look what I own”. And nothing re-enforces this more than holding one. It’s surprisingly heavy. That exudes quality. There is a feeling of richness that you get from density. That’s why a Zippo lighter feels better than a cricket. Like the Zippo it has a mechanical action and a cool hinge. In fact the Razr hinge and the way the screen slides is a mechanical marvel. That action and the weight make the phone feel fabulously solid. It reeks quality. You want to hold it, play with it, heck, even make calls with it. Show it to a friend and they will be jealous.

Those that argue that it’s not got Qualcomm’s finest chipset or that the camera is only 16MP are missing the point.

So that makes it a problem for 5G. If the flag-bearer for cutting edge technology is a 4G phone it’ll make selling the idea of 5G harder. In a way it doesn’t matter, of course 5G isn’t about phones, it’s about connecting things. About home and industry automation. You don’t need ultra-reliable low latency communication to ask your mum what’s for tea. But in another way, it does matter. Telling people that 5G is the latest and greatest becomes harder when a phone which snaps shut makes them feel so good.

Nothing is new, we’ve seen this before. Christmas 2005 was the first time Nokia got 3G right. Early 3G Nokia phones – the 6650 and the bizarre 7600 – were poor and clunky.  Motorola and NEC had stolen the lead with 3G, and kept ahead. The A920 (codenamed paragon) was way ahead of its time. So with its sorted 3G portfolio at the end of 2005 Nokia was looking forward to a Merry Christmas. But it counted without Carphone Warehouse’s Charles Dunstone. He changed the market by painting the Motorola Razr Pink. His initial order was 250,000. A crazy number. The business case for Razr was 800,000 units globally and he wanted to do nearly a third of that in the UK. Dunstone went on to sell Three million pink Razrs. It ruined Nokia’s sales.

What we in the 5G part of the industry need is a 5G Razr. It will be tough. In 4G we see chips which integrate the applications processor and the modem in a single chip. The only chip which does this in 5G is the Huawei Kirin 990 which Huawei is unlikely to sell to Lenovo, and even if it did it only supports sub 6GHz and so if by some political miracle a Huawei chip could be sold to Verizon because it wore a Motorola badge, it wouldn’t work on the Verizon 5G network. Getting the two chips necessary to fit in the sexy slim form factor of a new Razr will be a challenge.

What won’t be tough is selling the new Razr. It’s more than just retro, but there is one thing which harks back to the past. It’s been a very long time which we saw a phone lead to people standing in the cold queuing to buy one. The New Razr will ring that back too.