5G: How the Smartphone Market Is 'Smartly' Gearing Up For the New Demand Smartphone companies, such as Realme, Oppo, Nokia, among others, are working on a detailed strategy to bring more 5G products to the market. By the end of 2022, 5G smartphones will account for 35 per cent of the total smartphone shipments in India and this is expected to increase to 53 per cent by the end of 2023

By Shrabona Ghosh

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With the successful conclusion of the 5G spectrum auctions on August 1, 2022, smartphone companies are looking forward to heydays, again.

The smartphone industry has been plagued by multiple issues such as component shortages, inflation, increasing competition in the entry-level segment and inventory issues. However, with the availability of the 5G network, the industry looks bullish and by the end of 2022 there will be a surge in demand for 5G smartphones.

"By the end of 2022, 5G smartphones will account for 35 per cent of the total smartphone shipments in India. This is expected to increase to 53 per cent by the end of 2023. Since the availability of the network is now anticipated by October 2022, we can expect a surge in demand for 5G smartphones during the festive season. OEMs will also focus on multiple 5G launches during that time," said Charu Paliwal, research analyst at Counterpoint Research.

Credit: Counterpoint Research

How are companies gearing up?

At the forefront of bringing in new technologies, companies have put together a detailed strategy to bring more 5G products and to democratize the new network in India.

Realme launched 5G smartphone in India, back in 2020 and has already become the fastest-growing 5G smartphone brand this year. "Realme remained the fastest growing among the top five OEMs with 23 per cent year-on-year growth," said a report by Counterpoint Research.

The company has converted 90 per cent of its R&D to develop 5G technology and related products. "More than 50 per cent of our smartphone launches in 2022 will support 5G networks. Demand for smartphones is expected to jump with the rollout of 5G networks and when it comes to Realme, we have received tremendous responses from our users and already have a base of five million Realme users empowered by 5G devices. We are confident that this will continue to grow," said Madhav Sheth, CEO, Realme India and president, Realme International Business Group.

Smartphone company OPPO had set up a 5G R&D team seven years ago. From testing the first 5G WhatsApp video call last year to realizing the nation's dream of Atmanirbhar 5G and supporting India's first 5G call testing at IIT-Madras, the company has taken its innovation game to greater heights. The brand has undertaken multiple 5G initiatives in India, including a 5G innovation lab to deepen the development of core product technologies for OPPO's 5G network.

"While most 5G tests in India involved non-standalone models, OPPO developed its solutions on the SA network. Further, we have been collaborating with industry players and telecom operators for the most comprehensive 5G experience for our users. In India, we are one of the leading players in DSS, VONR, SA network slicing and other technologies and a leader in the number of 5G standard-related patents," said Tasleem Arif, VP and R&D head, OPPO India.

With the 5G adoption, smartphone penetration will also increase in India. HMD Global, the maker of Nokia, is scaling up its operations to meet the demand and deploy services.

"We firmly believe with the introduction of 5G, India's manufacturing services will greatly transform. We are set to launch a new set of devices and one can expect an increased shift to 5G as the network rolls-out," said Sanmeet Singh Kochhar, vice-president, HMD Global-India & MENA.

The telecom revolution is here and the 5G network will account for 40 per cent of mobile subscriptions by 2027, according to Ericsson ConsumerLab study. "Nokia wants to be a part of this change and help 5G reach every corner and decrease the existing digital divide. IDC has reported that one out of two smartphones shipped in India will support 5G. Our goal is to make 5G enabled smartphones affordable," Kochhar added.

Impact of high-price on demand

One of the greatest factors to decide on the increasing demand of 5G smartphones is budget. Launching more 5G phones in the budget segment will help fuel demand.

"Majority of the premium segment smartphones support 5G but choices in the budget segment are still limited. Currently, the lowest price of a 5G smartphone starts from INR 12,000, which is an offering from Redmi. Launching more 5G phones in the budget segment will help increase demand in the category," said Shilpi Jain, research analyst at Counterpoint Research.

"We expect intense competition among OEMs, availability of cheaper 5G chipsets and declining prices of devices will enable brands to push more 5G devices into the market. It is possible sometime next year to have 5G handsets below INR 10,000, moreover, Jio is also expected to come out with a low-cost 5G device," Jain added.

HMD Global, the maker of Nokia, has already taken note of the rising prices and aims to make 5G smartphones affordable. "The 5G phones are priced higher but by the end of the year, one will see more affordable options in the market. Our key focus area will be to launch smartphones that complement our target audience's lifestyle," added Kochhar of HMD Global.

What will happen to 4G phones?

As the smartphone industry has been hit by macroeconomic factors, researchers said consumers will be driven by need and not want. It is highly likely for a 4G smartphone user to switch to a 5G smartphone, notably at the time of a new purchase or upgrade.

"Smartphone demand has slowed down majorly due to macroeconomic factors and consumers will not simply make a new purchase just because 5G is launched in the area or until the need arises," said analyst Paliwal.

"Operators need to offer 5G-rich apps to encourage 5G smartphones as well as service adoption," said research analyst Jain.

For the manufacturers of Nokia smartphones, technology is always backward compatible and 4G devices would continue to work on 5G networks, "However, the maximum data speeds would be restricted to 4G speed that the hardware offers," said Kochhar.

However, for Relame users it could be different. "To access the 5G network you need the availability of the 5G bands, which is not there in the 4G phones," said Sheth of Realme India.

Shrabona Ghosh


A journalist with a cosmopolitan mindset. I lead a project called 'Corporate Innovations' wherein I cover corporates across verticals and try to tell stories on innovations. Apart from this, I write industry pieces on FMCGs, auto, aviation, 5G and defense. 

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