Tech in Focus – 5G Revolution in the Smartphone Industry: A Summary

The 5G revolution is here to stay.

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5G is the buzzword that’s taking the smartphone industry by storm this year. Well, the hype started gaining traction in 2020 itself, but with more smartphones coming with 5G support in India, it became imperative for us at MySmartPrice to look at the present smartphone market with a particular focus on the emerging revolution in cellular connectivity. So we did, in the inaugural edition of Tech in Focus with IDC Research Director, Navkender Singh, and inputs from Xiaomi’s Chief Operating Officer, Murlikrishnan B. and Vivo’s Director of Marketing Strategy, Nipun Marya. If you missed out on the engaging discussion, we have you covered —

5G smartphones proliferating in 2021

The discussion kicked off with the sudden proliferation of 5G smartphones across the world, and especially in India. IDC data claimed 5G smartphone shipments are going to increase by a whopping 35x in the next 3 years.

We are already seeing the results. 5G smartphone shipments jumped 4x in 2021, and we aren’t even past the halfway mark. Out of 604 smartphone launches in 2020, 37 were 5G phones. In 2021, it has already jumped to 55 5G smartphones out of a total 230 smartphone launches. That’s around 24% of all smartphones launched this year so far, versus just 6% last year.

But Navkender was quick to point out that the proliferation is primarily due to as many 5G smartphones launching in China. IDC found that almost 60% of the global 5G smartphone shipments are going to China, and there seems to be a direct correlation between the two markets, even though 5G networks are yet to go live in India. Why?

The answer lies in the OEMs that enjoy the highest marketshare and mindshare in India. Of all the players in the smartphone industry worldwide, it’s the Chinese OEMs that are pushing 5G the most. Since the India market is flooded and dominated by Chinese smartphone makers, it was inevitable for India to see similar traction on 5G shipments.

5G smartphones are becoming more affordable

2021 saw another big shift towards 5G adoption. While only the flagship and high-end segment had 5G support in 2020, this year the technology trickled down to the popular 10-20k price segment, taking a major 20% chunk of the market already. And at this juncture came in Xiaomi’s Murlikrishnan B. to announce that Redmi too is jumping on to the 5G bandwagon in India with the Redmi Note 10T 5G. The Mi 10i, launched earlier this year had become the highest selling 5G smartphone in the country in the 20-30k price range, he claimed, and that directly set the stage up for Redmi to democratise the tech further down the price ladder.

Pragmatic was the word of the discussion, and Murli said it’s crucial to maintain a balance of 4G and 5G devices in the Redmi smartphone portfolio. Pragmatic, because 5G components are still quite expensive and there’s no 5G network live in the country, so it’s prudent for the company to not go all in on the technology, yet. The Redmi Note 10T 5G, Murli claimed, will be for users seeking futuristic technology in the entry-level segment, and it will offer “great specs at an honest pricing.”

The 5G race in India

Next up was Vivo’s Nipun Marya with a fascinating revelation. The company managed to launched the most number of 5G smartphones in the country in 2021, 12 in total, and it did so without much fanfare. When asked about the company’s strategy in India, Nipun mentioned that the decision of what goes into Vivo smartphones depends on two things primarily — Consumer insights and the supply ecosystem. The former helps identify the market while the latter powers the technology the consumers demand.

But Vivo may have launched the most number of 5G phones this year, but it’s OnePlus that remains the most popular, according to buyer search volumes on MySmartprice from January to June 2021. From the list of ten most popular 5G smartphones, three were OnePlus smartphones.

Broadening that view to the brands, BBK twins OnePlus and Realme have almost 50% mindshare in India for 5G smartphones, which basically means consumer think of these two brands first when they think of 5G phones.

Similarly, from an SoC point of view, Qualcomm leads the way for 5G adoption in India. The company’s portfolio has 5G chipsets across every price range, right down to the entry-level segment. Most popular is the Snapdragon 870, followed by the Snapdragon 750G and the Snapdragon 888, but with a 40% share of popularity, MediaTek is trailing close to its heels. The Taiwanese chip designer has a bunch of affordable 5G chips catering primarily to the 10-20k and 20-30k segment, which has been seeing the most action in the India market.

So, overall, the 5G market is proliferating at a fast pace in India. And this is even before 5G networks go live. Heck, it’s even before 5G spectrum auctions have even happened in the country. But the discussion threw light to an interesting tidbit about Indian consumers. That, smartphone buyers, primarily in the mid-range segment tend to change their smartphones every 24 months, or two years. This very logic, thus, makes this odd strategy of launching a technology even before it’s ready for adoption, quite prudent.

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