What a Wonderful World of 5G Devices

Many brands have already brought to market large numbers of 5G devices, such as smartphones and hotspots. According to the latest tracking done by the GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association), an industry organisation, over 250 devices had been announced by mid-March 2020, with 67 of them commercially available, including 40 smartphones. Half a year previously, the same tracking recorded only 100 public device announcements, with only nine 5G smartphones commercially available. The pace of new 5G device launches has clearly been accelerating.

(Here we are sharing the opening section of this Telecoms.com Intelligence special briefing to look into how 5G operators and device makers can work together to deliver a win-win solution to grow the 5G ecosystem.

The full version of the report is available for free to download here.)

Consumers Love 5G Smartphones, or Do They?

Even in the midst of the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19, the smartphone marketplace has been busy. A number of flagship 5G smartphones have been launched by companies like Samsung and Huawei as well as their challengers, most of which had been meant to be unveiled at this year’s Mobile World Congress that did not happen. Many companies have moved their launch events online.

Consumers have signed up to 5G services faster than they did 4G. South Korea clocked up 5 million 5G subscribers by the end of 2019, eight months after the three operators switched on their 5G networks. China’s total number of 5G subscribers topped 10 million by the end of 2019, only two months after the three operators launched 5G in the world’s biggest smartphone market. China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator by subscriber number, reported that it had attracted 15.4 million 5G customers by the end of February, four months after launch. Despite that few if any other operators have published their 5G subscriber numbers, the momentum is there.

So far, 5G device shipment numbers have been strong. The research firm Strategy Analytics estimated that 19 million 5G smartphones were shipped in 2019. This was higher than most analysts had expected. So, at the first sight at least, consumers have shown strong enthusiasm in embracing 5G smartphones. Meanwhile, some evidence is showing that consumers have bought 5G smartphones not necessarily for 5G, or at least not the 5G the industry professionals would define it.

A research recently published by the software company Amdocs found that over a third of British consumers are interested in upgrading to 5G devices this year, but most of them are not sure what 5G is all about. The minority of consumers that claimed to know 5G would primarily cite faster internet. However, if the consumers take operators’ “gigabit speed” promise literally, they will be disappointed.

The network benchmarking and testing firm Global Wireless Solutions conducted a field test of the 5G networks in the centre of London towards the end of last year. The highest download speed of 470 Mbps was recorded on EE network, while the lower speeds of 330 Mbps and 320 Mbps were recorded on O2 and Vodafone networks respectively. These numbers, in addition to falling far short of “gigabit”, could only be achieved if the customer stood next to the base stations. Even those consumers well versed enough to quote buzz words like “low latency” would also be disappointed. The Global Wireless Solutions tests have found no meaningful improvement in latency from 4G connectivity.

This is an indication that the success to expand 5G adoption from early adopters to early majority is far from certain. While operators are honing their skills to convince consumers of 5G benefits, device makers, in particular smartphone brands, would also have much to lose if consumer enthusiasm should dampen by the underwhelming experience and patchy coverage.

To explore the topic further, the rest of this report first discusses what operators are looking for in 5G devices. We then analyse the key drivers for higher consumer adoption of 5G devices, including the underlying technologies. The report concludes by looking at the leading trends in the 5G device market in the next two to three years.

The rest of the report include these sections:

  • Do Not Ask What Operators Can Do For You, Ask What You Can Do For the Operators
  • What Is Happening Under the Hood?
  • Plenty To Look Forward To
  • Q&A with Daniel Gleeson, Principal Analyst, Omdia
  • Additional Resources

The full version of the report is available for free to download here.