5G smartphone sales beat 4G’s for the first time

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For the first time ever, sales penetration of 5G-capable smartphones has surpassed the sale of 4G phones, according to global telecoms research firm Counterpoint Research.

The sale of the fifth generation of mobile phones, its findings show, reached 51 per cent globally in January 2022, with China, North America and Western Europe being the biggest drivers of growth.

Even during a period of global chipset scarcity, the study says the growth is attributable to affordable chips that have further lowered the price of 5G-enabled smartphones.

“Thanks to the affordable chips offered by MediaTek and Qualcomm, Android 5G smartphones entered the mid-to-high (Sh25,000-Sh50,000) price segment and are now trickling down to the Sh15,000 to Sh25,000 price range, contributing one-fifth of the 5G sales in January 2022,” the report explains.

In 2019, Singapore’s tech market analysis firm Canalys predicted that 5G-enabled handsets would reach nearly 800 million units in 2023, accounting for 51.4 per cent of all smartphone shipments, but with higher demands for powerful gadgets during the pandemic, that number has been achieved sooner.

The surge in 5G adoption was triggered by Apple’s launch of the iPhone 12 series – its first flagships to support the current standard for broadband cellular networks in 2020.

China had the highest 5G penetration globally at 84 per cent in January, amid a push by local telecom operators and the readiness of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to market competitively-priced 5G smartphones to consumers, the Counterpoint study shows.

And if you thought Samsung or Apple have had the highest number of global 5G smartphone shipments in recent months, then you are wrong according to the research.

The smartphone brand that tops this list is Realme, the new kid in the 5G device market.

2021 last quarter data from Counterpoint Research’s Market Monitor report shows that the Chinese manufacturer leads for the third quarter in a row, with more than 5 million units shipped.

The study finds that Realme recorded a 165 per cent year-on-year (YoY) growth in 5G smartphone shipments, followed by Samsung at 109 percent with Mi coming third at 98 percent growth.

“Honor is also at 98 per cent, followed by Vivo at 55 percent, Oppo at 42 per cent while Apple closes the top seven at 30 percent,” the data indicates.

But why is Realme outshipping established brands? Its senior analyst Harmeet Walia told Business Daily that the brand has been offering a broader 5G portfolio since 2020, having grown from just 2 million 5G smartphones at the beginning of 2020 to 15 million at the beginning of 2021 and well over double of that by Q4 2021.

“Simultaneously, the average selling price of these devices has declined too – from close to Sh27,000 in Q1 2020 for a 6GB RAM, 128 ROM phone to Sh22,000 in February for Realme 9i”

Strategy Analytics director Woody Oh noted that Samsung “has extremely low presence in China, the world’s biggest 5G market” which weighed on its outlook.

His company predicted shipments of 5G smartphones would hit 624 million in 2021, up from 269 million in 2020 on the back of strong demand, which has come to pass. 

The Market Monitor report also indicates that global shipments of mid-tier 5G smartphones (models priced between Sh20,000 and Sh40,000) grew 193 per cent YoY during Q2 2021 to increase their share in the total 5G smartphone shipments to 37 per cent against 32 per cent in Q1 2021.

And while the performance was driven by Western European countries such as the UK, Italy, Spain, France and Switzerland, Realme sees faster growth in Kenya and across Africa this year as these markets prepare for mass roll out of 5G in 2022.

“We see our focus and commitment to meeting dynamic needs of young and tech-savvy youths in Kenya, yielding better results in the country,” said Realme founder and CEO Sky Li.

The latest ranking, Mr Li, said has enhanced Realme’s position as an industry leader in democratizing 5G.

“As an emerging tech brand, we will be committed to encouraging young users worldwide to experience the latest 5G technology,” he said.

The company said, Realme 9i, the newest model in the number series launched in the market earlier in the beginning of 2022 is recording high sales, being among the few 5G brands in Kenya that are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 5G chipset.

The introduction of 5G, though not yet live on mobile phones in Kenya, is highly anticipated thanks to the speed it offers – up to 20 times compared to 4G – and the wide scope of use cases it can be leveraged with, including new-age technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, hologram technology, blockchain, 4D printing and the metaverse.

Recent data by Bank My Cell reveals that in 2022, the number of smartphone users in the world is 6.648 billion, which translates to 83.72 per cent of the world’s population. In total, the number of people that own a smart and feature phone is 7.26 billion, making up 91.54 per cent of the global population.

According to GSMA real-time intelligence data, there are now over 10.57 billion mobile connections worldwide, which surpasses the current world population of 7.93 billion implied by United Nations digital analyst estimates. This means there are 2.64 billion more mobile connections than people worldwide.

According to Euler Hermes Global February 5G report, 2022 is the year 5G mobile services are becoming mainstream in Europe and North America, with the upgrading of existing mobile infrastructure is now well under way in most countries.

While telecommunications services companies are betting on 5G to sell higher-priced plans, smartphone-makers are hoping it will encourage customers to upgrade their current devices, reviving flagging shipments.

“More than 30 per cent of all smartphone subscribers, or 450 million people, had a 5G plan as of late 2021, two years after 5G services were launched with strong support from state-owned mobile telecommunications companies,” the study says.

However, China’s experience shows that users appreciate 5G, but will not rush for it. As the world’s most advanced country for mass 5G adoption, China showed mixed signals when it comes to the impact of 5G on the telecommunications industry.

“The example of China, home to about 70 per cent of all 5G subscribers globally, is all the more worrying as sales in the other leading 5G markets of South Korea and Taiwan: Local smartphone shipments have been broadly flat since 2019 despite excellent 5G coverage.”

The research attributes the lack of consumer enthusiasm for 5G devices to the absence of the so-called “killer feature” enabled by 5G, and sometimes disappointing mobile data speeds compared to theoretical capacities.

The data also shows that users are holding on to their smartphones for longer in the West, and by 2025, longer replacement cycles could result in an 11 per cent decline in local shipments, wiping out Sh1.7 trillion of sales yearly.

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