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5G handset sales set to reach 560m in 2021

iPhone 13
(Image credit: TechRadar)

Sales of 5G compatible smartphones are set to reach 560 million this year, helping the number of worldwide connections reach 637 million.

Analysts at CCS Insight say deployments and adoption of 5G phones in Western Europe, North America and Asia are overcoming challenges posed by the triple threat of Covid-19, the uncertain role of Huawei, and unfavourable macroeconomic conditions

Penetration in South Korea has reached 30%, while strong sales of compatible devices ahead of Christmas in the US are set to see it reach the 25% mark in the near future. However despite China’s early lead, slowing demand means 5G is set to account for 24% of all connections by the end of 2021.  

Global 5G smartphone sales

While an industry-wide shortage of components has affected the supply and sale of smartphones in many segments, high-end and 5G devices have largely been unaffected. However, there are still concerns about the iPhone 13 that might yet dampen enthusiasm.

"In another turbulent year for the mobile phone market, supply constraints in low- to mid-tier segments, paired with weak demand in emerging markets, have dampened sales,” declared Marina Koytcheva, vice president of forecasting at CCS Insight. “But 5G-enabled devices have so far continued to find their way to the hands of people in the world's most advanced markets.”

Fragmentation, delayed spectrum auctions, and dithering on Huawei has affected rollout in Western Europe – not to mention the fact that many countries still have high quality 4G networks. It is thought that 5G won’t account for half of connections here until 2024. The falling cost of compatible handsets will be a critical factor.

“Things are looking up on that front; the global mobile phone market is projected to recover in 2022, and prices of 5G handsets continue to fall steadily. Our forecast for 3.6 billion 5G connections worldwide by 2025 is still firmly on track,” added Koytcheva.

Industrial applications and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) will only account for 9% of all 5G connections by 2025 but are an important market for operators that want to diversify their revenues and achieve higher margins. Strong momentum in China for industrial 5G is a source of optimism, while there is also hope that the switch off of 3G in the US will drive demand.

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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.