Chicken or Egg
It has been nearly a decade since 4G networks started to roll out around the world. And while there is a lot of political and economic noise around Huawei, Ericsson, and 5G network infrastructure providers, the telecom industry is undoubtedly getting ready to make the 5G leap. At this stage, the question is which comes first? The chicken or the egg? Are there enough 5G handsets to make a 5G network viable economically? And conversely, will handset makers build 5G smartphones when there are so few 5G networks to support them?
Most Popular 5G Smartphones
In August of 2019, the most popular 5G smartphone was the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, with 0.03% global adoption. To put this in perspective, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is ranked 363rd among all smartphones globally. So it has yet to become a blockbuster. Apple, who builds the world’s most used smartphone (the iPhone 7 with 4.5% globally), has yet to include 5G in its device’s capabilities. Apple’s adoption would certainly signal a tipping point in 5G adoption from the device side of the equation. But at its annual release in September 2019, there was no mention of 5G.
Here are the most popular 5G smartphones (August 2019)
Smartphone – Global Rank (usage)
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G – 363
LG V50 ThinQ – 998
Samsung Galaxy Note10 5G – 2334
OPPO Reno 5G – 2611
Huawei Mate 20 X 5G – 2786
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G – 3119
ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G -3243
Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G – 4762
Early 5G Adopter: South Korea
To date, the only country with a significant adoption of 5G-ready devices is South Korea. South Korean carriers have invested $2.6 billion in 5G technology to support network launches in April 2019. We say 5G-ready smartphones because it is quite possible that these smartphones are using their 4G modem more frequently. Currently, the number of 5G base stations is only 7% of 4G. Nevertheless, South Korea appears to be ready to solve the chicken and egg problem
Other Countries: Still Early
To date, no other country has more than 1% adoption of 5G devices. Below is a chart listing 5G smartphone adoption by the 30 largest telecom markets (measured by number of mobile subscribers). After South Korea, Great Britain is the second highest in terms of 5G smartphone adoption 0.58% of its market. Compared to South Korea at 5.1% of its market with 5G, Great Britain has not really started. We will continue to monitor country-level trends in the MOVR 5G index reports.
Networks will likely focus their investments regionally and rollout 5G in stages across a country as large and the USA.