5G has the power to drive the smartphone category into a new era. No wonder it has been in such high profile at IFA

With the many announcements being made at IFA regarding 5G, the future looks bright for a mobile phone category that had stalled. We spoke to Anna Ahrens, Senior Research Analyst, Mobile Handsets, IHS Markit and started by asking her about the market for 5G.

This IFA has been very important for the smartphone market, which is one of the most dynamic markets in the world right now in consumer electronics. 5G is a big topic and we have seen very important announcements at IFA, which will drive 5G adoption in mobile devices.

Which were the key announcements?

Samsung is including 5G in the mid-range of its phones – which is the first time that 5G has come to the mid-range. Initially, manufacturers put 5G chips exclusively in their flagship phones and now, following Qualcomm’s announcement at IFA, Samsung is bringing the same 5G feature not only on its flagship phones, but also to phones in its 6 and 7 Series.


How has 5G advanced around the world?

The first 5G network was introduced in Korea, followed by the US, and then Switzerland came on board. What is interesting about 5G in Europe, is that the first phone Switzerland adopted for its 5G introduction was a Chinese manufacturer (Operino). Now we have tests across Europe. The UK has started with 5G; in Germany, we have several cities and areas that have started; and Finland, Ireland, Italy and Spain are coming with 5G. There will be 20 operators offering 5G by the end of the year in Europe. In Korea, there are already one million people with a 5G subscription, and the numbers are increasing very fast, since its introduction earlier this year. We estimate that 9.5 million 5G units will be sold this year globally, with more than 400 million units sold in 2023.

What are the barriers to 5G from an end user perspective?

The barrier is the infrastructure at the moment, not the hardware of smartphones. The infrastructure will come. In this case, we are speaking about the first hardware being ready for 5G before the infrastructure, which is the first time in the history of the infrastructure and smartphone relationship. For consumers, 5G brings a new experience, with higher screen resolutions, a lot of artificial intelligence and augmented reality – and gaming, in particular cloud gaming, is a big topic for 5G, due to the high speed and the amount of data that can be transferred very fast.

What are the other key developments in smartphones?

Manufacturers are increasing the active area of the screen and new formats include foldable screens; Samsung, for example, is launching a foldable screen, 5G smartphone at IFA. The foldable market will be challenging, primarily down to the price of the latest devices, but it also has some potential. At the price points that exist right now, it is difficult to achieve large numbers of sales. We are estimating 500,000 this year and we believe it will increase to about 40 million in 2024. 5G will definitely drive smartphone sales.

Photo: Anna Ahrens, Senior Research Analyst, Mobile Handsets, IHS Markit