Analysts: Don’t expect big sales of 5G phones anytime soon

Qulacomm Snapdragon X50 modem (Mike Dano/FierceWireless)
Qualcomm has shown off its Snapdragon X50 modem for 5G smartphones. (Mike Dano/FierceWireless)

Wireless operators in the United States have promised to launch 5G services as early as this year—but don’t expect many customers to upgrade to a new 5G smartphone anytime soon.

According to two new analyst forecasts, sales of 5G smartphones will remain paltry for at least the next several years.

For example, Strategy Analytics said that it expects the first 5G commercial handsets to go on sale starting in early 2019, but the firm said that 5G handsets will only account for 5% of global handset sales by 2021.

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“5G smartphone sales will begin in China, Japan, South Korea and the USA from 2019,” analyst Ville-Petteri Ukonaho cautioned in a release from the firm. “But volumes in 2019 will be in just the millions, and only barely in the tens of millions in 2020.”

Similarly, Gartner predicted that, by 2021, just 9% of smartphones sold will support 5G.

Related: Editor’s Corner—What we know, and what we don’t know, about 5G in the U.S.

“By 2021, 5G networks in key countries in Asia and North America will cover many urban centers, giving customers a reason to purchase 5G smartphones,” added Ken Hyers, a director at Strategy Analytics, in therelease from the firm. “By 2023, as 5G smartphone prices continue to fall and next-generation wireless networks are built out across much of the developed world, 5G handset sales will number in the hundreds of millions.”

Despite those relatively soft expectations, Verizon’s CEO is nonetheless promising amazing devices. During a recent event, Verizon’s Lowell McAdam said that users would only need to charge 5G smartphones once every four weeks—comments that took most by surprise considering 5G smartphone chipset makers like Qualcomm have cautioned that initial 5G devices may require extra battery power.

As for the initial round of 5G devices, AT&T will probably be the first U.S. carrier to sell a 5G device. The operator has promised to release a “puck” later this year that will support its mobile 5G service.

As for T-Mobile and Sprint, both have promised to offer 5G smartphones in early 2019. Sprint has said it hopes to offer an “iconic-type phone” from a Korean vendor early next year.

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