The global Smartphone industry is going through a major transitional phase with the rollout of next-generation 5G network technology. After the testing phase, the initial public rollout of 5G started in many countries during 2019, but it is the US all eyes are set to.
During 2019, in its first year of the rollout, it has been estimated that the US market sold just under two million 5G NR capable smartphones which accounts for only one per cent of the total smartphone sales in that year. This has been reported by the latest Monthly Smartphone Model Sales Tracker of Counterpoint Research.
By capturing a whopping 74% of the total sales in 2019, Samsung came out to be victorious as the leader, thanks to the unavailability of iPhone 5G devices that are yet to be rolled out in the market. In 2019, Samsung’s Note 10 Plus 5G was reportedly the best selling smartphone in the 5G category in the whole of the United States.
As mentioned by the Research Director at Counterpoint Research, Jeff Fieldhack, there were several reasons related to the below expectations sales figures of 5G smartphones in the US in 2019.
AT&T and T-Mobile took a hybrid approach while Verizon which was the early mover led with their mmWave-only 5G smartphones. Customers were not over aggressively pushed to a limited 5G portfolio as the mmWave by Verizon was rolled out in 31 cities.
Limited business channels were chosen by AT&T to sell as they felt selling their mmWave-only devices to consumers would be too risky. With its sub-6GHz 5G coverage being turned on very late in Q4 2019, T-Mobile’s mmWave 5G network was available only in 6 cities.
However, it is being believed that as low-band 5G coverage is quickly being rolled out this should be changing in 2020.
In addition to this Fielehack continued by saying that by 2020 mid-year near full coverage (over 250 million POPs) of low-band 5G will b enjoyed by AT&T and T-Mobile. Devices with low-band and mmWave support will also be launching soon under AT&T.
T-Mobile has significantly increased its marketing campaign promoting 5G network. The leading telecom provider in the US will reportedly be looking to smartphone OEMs to support 600MHz, Sprint’s 2.5GHz, and mmWave as the merger has been finalized with Sprint. As of now, T-Mobile possesses a limited amount of mmWave spectrum, however, it is being speculated that they will gain more of it in future spectrum auctions.
On the other hand, Verizon’s 800 MHz spectrum for 5G aided by Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) technology is being said to be pushed to soft re-farm. This will enable the operator to use it for both 4G and 5G workloads.
Now for the top-selling 5G smartphone models 2019, Research Analyst Maurice Klaehne believes that ahead of the Galaxy S10 5G, Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G was the top-selling 5G smartphone in 2019.
As carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile began lighting-up their 5G networks, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G was heavily promoted by the company in late in the year of 2019. Different financing and trade-in incentives were experimented with by carriers to get the monthly cost of the device down to an incredible deal of about $35 per month as the device retails for a whopping $1299.99.
Despite such a steep price point, because of the incredible bargain of just $35 per month, consumers were incentivized to purchase the 5G device from Samsung.
On the flip side, despite being one of the early movers in the market, LG V250, LG’s 5G offering, fell short when it came to sales because of weak promotional offers.
For the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, the low price point of $840 worked like a charm and drove their sales and hence it became the top seller for the OEM.
Way Forward For US 5G Smartphone Sales In 2020
In 2020, carriers and OEMs are being expected to come out with more stronger promotional offerings for consumer 5G sales according to Maurice Klaehne.
The US carries prefer that their customers shift onto their 5G networks as it’s on the cheaper side than that of 4G networks. As 5G plans generally have unlimited data plans including free streaming and gaming services, carriers also feel that consumers will be more sticky to 5G networks.
For example, big monthly credit offerings from carriers are being offered with the newly announced Samsung Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra when a customer adds a new line or makes a switch to a new 5G unlimited plan.
5G smartphones priced under $500 are also expected to be available in 2020, however, as mmWave module costs are still high, it is highly likely that they will likely only be for sub-6GHz 5G.
5G smartphone penetration in the US is expected to increase to 25% in 2020 from that of just 1% in 2019 according to Fieldhack.
As Apple is also gearing up to launch iPhone 5G by the end of this year, the adoption would be accelerated. And if that’s not enough, the proliferation of sub-$500 5G smartphones will soon be in the country to do make heads turned.
But there are certain challenges as well. The total smartphone market will likely be heavily impacted negatively because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Many factories in China had to reduce their production capacity for the same while some are still closed shut. Despite all of it, the advanced 5G rollout of the US market will likely be a priority for OEMs.