The Truth about 5G Adoption

I recently wrote a piece suggesting that Apple needed to have a 5G smartphone in their line in 2019, reasoning that any phone bought this year would be held for at least two years if not more and could eventually make use of a 5G network.

Given that a lot of smartphones bought this year will be used well past 2019, I felt that Apple having at least one model in their line made sense. To some degree, I still think that this should at least be a consideration for a phone in Apple’s 2019 roadmap. Some of the major Chinese and Korean smartphone companies will have a 5G smartphone in their 2019 for this exact reason.

However, even if Apple does not have a 5G iPhone in 2019, I do not think it will be a significant issue for Apple. Yes, they will get criticized if a 5G phone is not in the fall iPhone launch. The bigger picture suggests that even if Apple did not deliver a 5G phone in 2019, the market for 5G is so nascent in 2019 that it probably will have no impact on iPhones sales in this next round of product releases. Indeed, the problems in China and the overall slowdown in smartphone sales will be where any headwind will be with any new smartphones released in 2019 by all manufacturers.

I am assured that the 5G modems that will be in any smartphone n 2019 will be technically solid and deliver on its promised goals. But I am also convinced that the reality will mostly temper the hype from the carriers who want their partners to release 5G smartphones in 2019 that 5G adoption is well in the future.

In the chart below from the Ericsson Mobility report, at best, only 4 million 5 G activations will take place in 2019. Given that we will sell at least 1.2 billion smartphones in 2019, that is a paltry number. That number grows to 54 million in 2020, 191 million in 2021 and 551 million by 2022.

At a recent event about 5G, officials from multiple telecoms pointed out that, like the 4G launch, 5G will be a ten-year journey. 2019 will be looked at as the first year for 5G with the rest of the world entirely getting on board during these ten years.
When you look at 5G in these terms, getting a 5G phone to market in 2019 is marginal at best.

However, having a 5 G smartphone in Apple’s line up in 2020 looks like it should be a pressing priority for Apple if this chart’s projections are even in the ballpark. Fifty-four million 5G subscriptions by then is a serious business.

What’s remarkable about this for all smartphone manufacturers is that 5G is not only the most advanced wireless network technology we have ever had, but it will power a big part of our economy in the future. Higher speed wireless connections on smartphones will allow for more vibrant and faster media. It will make face-to-face communications and collaboration more natural. It will sit at the center of powering new forms of AR, VR and XR applications.

Beyond smartphones, 5G will be used in self-driving cars for crash aversion systems and be used in numerous ways in smart cities, smart buildings and even smart homes. It will be a transformational technology that will impact businesses and consumers equally. Don Clark over at the New York Times did a great piece explaining 5G if you are not familiar with this technology.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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