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OnePlus' deal with UK carrier EE bodes well for its 5G future

This is good news for the small Chinese phone maker as it looks to expand distribution and boost its reputation.

Published onFebruary 26, 2019

OnePlus has had a busy week at the world’s largest mobile trade show. At MWC 2019 in Barcelona, it revealed that U.K.-based EE will sell its unnamed 5G smartphone once the device is ready. EE already sells the OnePlus 6T. This extended partnership shows that carriers’ confidence in OnePlus is growing, which is good news for the phone maker.

OnePlus has grown quickly over the last few years and enjoys a cult following among consumers. Carrier deals generally mean a phone maker has made it to the big leagues. Can it keep the momentum going?

EE extends OnePlus an invite

OnePlus famously launched its first phone through an invitation system. It was a frustrating method to control demand. The company eventually began offering its phones directly to consumers online without invitations. Since then, the company’s sales have steadily improved.

An image of the OnePLus 5G smartphone prototype in a concealing case at Mobile World Congress 2019.

In 2018, OnePlus got the attention of EE in the U.K. and T-Mobile in the U.S. Both carriers added the 6T, the company’s most recent phone, to their stores. According to OnePlus, this boosted sales of the 6T by 249 percent. OnePlus didn’t provide a break down of how sales fared at EE versus T-Mobile, but the mix doesn’t matter as much as the total. Clearly the phone sold enough to convince EE (at least) that OnePlus is worth keeping on its shelves.

OnePlus said at MWC 2019 that it is “pushing forward with its 5G endeavors” thanks to partnerships with carriers such as EE. Further, the company said together with EE it will “be among the first to release a 5G commercial smartphone in the U.K.”

Given the fierce competition to be first to 5G, OnePlus has its work cut out for it — especially when you consider what it had on display in Barcelona.

5G prototype mostly hype

OnePlus provided a sneak peak at its 5G prototype this week at Qualcomm’s booth on the trade show floor. The company didn’t reveal too much about the device. It will make use of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor and the X50 modem. The X50 is Qualcomm’s first-generation 5G mobile chip. Qualcomm recently announced the X55, which is what will eventually power a new wave of 5G mobile devices. OnePlus had a display hooked up to several demonstrations, such as cloud gaming.

No one was allowed to actually hold or use the prototype, which means it’s not even remotely ready. The prototype may or may not reflect what the company actually brings to market later this year.

OnePlus’ competitors Huawei, LG, Samsung, Xiaomi, and ZTE all trotted out 5G phones. Of these, only LG and Samsung announced carrier deals in the U.S., and so far only the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and LG V50 ThinQ 5G are headed to EE. That means OnePlus’ 5G phone will be available in EE carrier stores, right next to the big players.

The big question is whether or not T-Mobile will continue to support OnePlus. The carrier has yet to say it will sell any more phones from OnePlus, let alone the company’s 5G offering.

OnePlus is wholly primed for success. With any luck, it will be able to capitalize on its success and push the envelope. With the U.K. and the U.S. on its side, it now needs to convince other carriers, particularly those in Europe, to give it a shot.

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