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Year in Review: 5G Smartphones Ready to Boom

January 14, 2020

Author: Linley Gwennap

Smartphone shipments continue to sag, but the mobile market celebrated the launch of 5G in 2019 and looks forward to much more in 2020. Market leader Qualcomm expects 5G phone shipments will soar to 200 million units in 2020, up from about 10 million the previous year. It forecasts further growth to 750 million units two years later, comprising about half of the total smartphone market. Such rapid growth would be unprecedented for a new cellular generation; LTE supplied just 15% of the market in the third year after its launch.

The main reason for such optimism is the rapid deployment of 5G networks. Qualcomm counts more than 40 operators that have already launched 5G service or are planning to in 1H20; only 4 operators launched LTE service in that protocol’s first year. To service this demand, many OEMs already offer 5G phones, and Qualcomm claims more than 230 models are available or in development. Most initial models are expensive, with Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 5G the least so at about $700. In 2020, however, prices will fall rapidly: that vendor has already announced a Redmi K30 5G model below $300.

The past year also continued the shift from merchant to in-house chips, as Intel left the modem business and both Apple and Huawei expanded their internal silicon development. AI accelerators moved into the mid-premium segment even as flagship vendors fought to deliver the fastest neural networks. Chipmakers invested in faster ISPs to improve photo and video capabilities. The initial folding phones flopped, but gamers gained ground.

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