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5G is the new normal for North American smartphone

Well that was quick. Less than three years after the first 5G smartphones were introduced to North America, 5G smartphone vendor share has settled into a pattern that reflects the overall smartphone market.  Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, in Q4 2021 5G smartphones accounted for 75% of all smartphones shipped to the region, and for the full year 5G smartphones captured a two-thirds share in 2021, Strategy Analytics reports.  That share is only going to continue going up. north america 5g smartphones

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Seasonality is in full-force, most apparent when looking at Apple and Samsung, with Samsung at its strongest in the first half of the year and Apple in the second half.  Some things don’t change.

NAM 5G Smartphone Penetration 2023 Q421 update

What is particularly interesting is that overlaying the total 5G smartphone share by vendor for North America onto the total smartphone share by vendor for the region shows pretty much the same growth patterns in recent quarters.  The reason this is interesting is that 5G was expected to be a disruptive force that would see some vendors exit the market and some new vendors enter.

In some ways, that happened – LG exited smartphones entirely in 2021, though that was due to other market dynamics (distribution, marketing, pricing, etc.) rather than 5G. And other vendors like OnePlus have capitalized on 5G to improve their share in the market (though in OnePlus’ case the gains are marginal and it remains in the low single-digits share-wise). north america 5g smartphones

Some vendors have higher share in 5G than in the overall smartphone market.  Apple’s 5G smartphone share is over 10 percentage points higher than its total smartphone share in the North America market. This isn’t surprising since Apple’s entire smartphone portfolio is now 5G. Meanwhile Samsung’s 5G share currently indexes pretty closely to its overall smartphone marketshare in the market, but Samsung still offers 4G devices for the value-focused consumer base.  Interestingly, Motorola succeeded in pushing its Q4’21 5G share slightly higher than its overall smartphone share, reflecting the success of its One 5G, One 5G Ace and Moto G Stylus 5G smartphones in the quarter.

5G has made a more rapid impact than 4G achieved

If we compare the progress of 5G to date with the early years of 4G, the quick start of the new generation is very evident. 4G got going at the end of 2010. In the fourth quarter of 2011 it had mustered a bit more than 5% of the smartphone market, which was of course much smaller in total then. In the last three months of the following year the share had risen to close to a quarter, and even by the third year, at the end of 2013, it was still under a third.  In value terms 4G was two-fifths of the smartphone market in Q4 2012, and three-fifths in Q4 2013.

It is true that the 5G market has received a short-term boost this year from smartphone makers during the current components shortage prioritizing more expensive models, and hence 5G ones. However without this boost 5G growth would still have been very substantial, and it would still have way outperformed the 4G curve.

Though all this sounds impressive for 5G, from the operator’s point of view the spread of 5G is much slower. It always takes what seems like an inordinate amount of time for product sales to significantly affect installed base, as environmentalists know with electric cars and emissions.

IDC tracks the impact of 5G on the smartphone installed base through its Telecom Services Tracker. Its latest figures from the middle of this year suggest that 5G-capable devices then made up about 5% of the 5.8 billion global smartphone installed base. China had 160 million 5G smartphones in use, and the U.S. had 35 million. The rest of the world accounted for 90 million.

Here the dominance of China, with its early start as the first big country to go over to 5G, is very clear, and its sheer demographic size will mean that in user base terms it will only slip back slowly from towering over other individual markets.


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