India becomes fourth largest 5G smartphone market – without 5G networks

5G smartphones
Image by Alessandro Biascioli | Bigstockphoto

India has become the fourth largest market for 5G smartphones in the world in the April-June period even as the country is not even close to introducing the high-speed internet service in coming months and telcos are just piloting 5G using trial spectrum. 

India was behind only developed countries like China, USA and Japan in terms of 5G smartphone shipments in the second quarter of 2021 calendar year, as per a report by market intelligence firm International Data Corporation (IDC). 

The growth of the Indian 5G handset ecosystem is being driven by aggressive Chinese brands like Realme, Oppo and Vivo. Because of their aggression, the cheapest 5G smartphone is now priced at around $188 in the country.

IDC analysts estimate 5G smartphone shipments will rise significantly to reach up to 40 million, about 24% of the total smartphone shipments, for the whole of the 2021 calendar year. Counterpoint Research and CyberMedia Research (CMR), however, expect 30-32 million 5G smartphone shipments by the year-end.

The share of 5G smartphones crossed 14% in the quarter, as per Counterpoint Research, while CMR India put the figure at 13%.

IDC’s research director Navkendar Singh said that the fast developing Chinese handset market is pushing the ecosystem globally, including in India. 

China is ahead of the curve and the brands that lead the Chinese markets hold similar rankings in India, thereby trying to develop the ecosystem by quickly bringing their 5G products. 

“Handset brands are making more SKUs (stock-keeping units) and players makers like Mediatek are bringing affordable chipsets which is helping the market to open up,” Singh was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

Tarun Pathak, research director at Counterpoint Research said this is the first time that the device ecosystem has developed faster, even in the absence of commercially available service. “Globally, we have seen 5G devices as low as $140, so India won’t be an exception.”

Analysts, however, reckon that the price war in the Indian 5G handset market is still some time away as components required to make a decent 5G device are still expensive. While handset brands are aggressive, they are also cautious about this fact especially when there’s an ongoing shortage of chipsets and disruption in the global supply chain to the pandemic. 

As per IDC, Counterpoint and CMR, Realme had the highest 5G smartphone market share in the April-June quarter, followed by OnePlus and Oppo. All three brands are owned by China’s BBK Electronics. 

Realme recently said that it will “massify” 5G technology by bringing sub-Rs 10,000 (sub-$134) 5G smartphones to the users in India next year to take on the likes of Samsung and Xiaomi.

Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are conducting 5G field trials across various cities in the mid and mmwave bands in partnership with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. Jio is also piloting its own 5G radio and core technologies in Navi Mumbai.

Indian telcos have urged the Department of Telecommunications to seek the regulator, TRAI’s, fresh consultations on pricing of 5G bands, including 600 Mhz, 3.5 GHz and spectrum in the mmwave bands. 

The Indian government hasn’t shared a timeline for the next round of spectrum auction. However, a spectrum auction is expected to be held during the first quarter of the next fiscal.

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