I wanted to cover a quick comment that Qualcomm made yesterday at its Snapdragon Tech Summit event. We’re currently in 2019, with the first wave of 5G devices currently rolling out. The devices are here, and the networks on a global scale are taking their time to add 5G in different stages – some are starting with mmWave, some are starting with Sub-6 GHz, and then eventually everyone everywhere should support both. There is always a question about what the level of adoption is like, and Qualcomm gave a very clear figure about where the market is headed.

Now it’s fairly obvious that as time goes on, as 5G gets cheaper and the operators actually give data plans that make sense, that more and more users will invest in 5G enabled devices. That will drive certain use cases that will eventually make certain forms of 5G a fundamental feature for smartphones, just like 4G is today. Of the devices out in the market that support 5G, due to the limited chipset/modem support, we’re dealing mostly with flagship smartphones: the Samsung Galaxy S 10 5G, the Oppo Reno 5G, the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, and so on. It’s a high cost of entry, and part of the announcement this week from Qualcomm is that they’re going to be introducing 5G into more mid-range chips to enable mid-range devices.

As part of that drive to take 5G to the mass market, Qualcomm stated on stage that they expect more than 1.4 billion smartphones (that’s smartphones, not 5G-enabled IoT devices) with 5G to be shipped by 2022.

At the moment, the biggest market for 5G adoption is South Korea. Qualcomm has stated in an interview with us that there are 2 million 5G subscribers in South Korea, and Samsung has stated in September that they had passed that 2 million mark and they expect 4 million by the end of 2019. Samsung is the only smartphone provider with a ‘mid-range’ 5G implementation right now, the Galaxy A90 5G, which starts around $620.

In order to go from 2 million to 4 million to 1.4 billion is going to require a wide adoption of Qualcomm’s new mid-range 5G-enabled chipsets. To that end, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 765 and 765G, which will power upper-mid range smartphones in 2020. The SoCs will have integrated X52 modems that will offer support for both mmWave and Sub 6 GHz 5G (assuming the OEMs add the antennas). In order to go to 1.4 billion, it’s going to require more than just Qualcomm to bring 5G to the mid-range, and in an interview earlier this year with Richard Yu, he stated that they are also ready to bring 5G to the mid-range in 2020.

In order to provide some context and to see if this number is viable, I looked back at the data for 4G/LTE adoption. It’s worth noting that the 1.4 billion number for 5G that Qualcomm presented is for ‘smartphones’, not ‘phones’ – there are a large number of 4G non-smart phones that are sold every year.

Smartphone Unit Shipments
AnandTech 4G
Year 1 2010 4m 4m   2019 4m
Year 2 2011 18m 22m   2020 -
Year 3 2012 95m 117m   2021 -
Year 4 2013 273m 390m   2022 1400m ?
Year 5 2014 542m 932m   2023 -
Year 6 2015 967m 1899m   2024 -
Year 7 2016 1206m 3109m   2025 -

(Editor's note: This information is from Statista, which only discloses the underlying data sources to Pro subscribers. Normally Statista data is questionable if you don't have the original source, however we were able to find media reports with similar numbers for specific years.)

The title of the first 4G smartphone (albeit WiMAX rather than LTE) is usually attributed to the HTC Evo 4G, which came out in June 2010. By the end of 2010, there were 4 million 4G smartphone shipments, and it took 6 years to reach a sum of 1.4 billion. So in order for the market to hit that 1.4 billion number within 4 years of 5G devices coming to market (2019-2022), they’re going to have to beat the rate of 4G adoption by a significant factor.

That being said, the device market is a lot more mature. Both Qualcomm and Huawei are saying that consumers looking for a new phone will want a 5G future-proof device from next year, and this will drive sales. I have confidence in companies like Qualcomm and the OEMs to push out plenty of 5G devices, though I remain skeptical about infrastructure rollout.

Qualcomm has stated that they have 150 designs with 5G already, although not all of those are smartphones. In the presentation today, they said 230+ were either deployed or in development.

Quick Bytes are shortened news pieces about topics mentioned at large press events. Because sometimes smaller announcements get buried at a keynote presentation because a dozen key points are mentioned in one article, and our Quick Bytes series separates out a few topics for targeted discussion.

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  • JoeyJoJo123 - Wednesday, December 4, 2019 - link

    Yeah, nah. Call me skeptical, but I don't see 1.4b 5G smartphones happening by 2022. 5G rollout has been slow, particularly in rural/lower income areas of the US, so I imagine the same applies to lots of other regions around the world.

    Additionally, the smartphone craze, I feel, has mostly stalled the past few phone cycles, and it's my perception that more and more people are holding onto phones for longer rather than upgrading every 6 - 12 months like they were before. There aren't really large performance or battery life advancements happening every few months like the early 2010's, so manufacturers have been trying to spin phones towards other minimal features such as thinner bezels/notches/gimmicks like squeeze gestures.

    This seems to read more like a marketing stunt to influence investors to buy into Qualcomm because they seem to be promising/indicating that their 5G technology is going to supposedly be big.
  • RSAUser - Monday, December 9, 2019 - link

    5G roll-out has been slow? The first standardization was mid 2018, and only within the last few months have we gotten Ref 15 (the 5G standard that everyone will begin rolling out).
    This is way faster than the 4G roll-out.
  • ksec - Wednesday, December 4, 2019 - link


    1. There is an Annual GSM Report on 4G Smartphone and Subscribers Number that is very accurate as they are numbers from each MNO. I believe the Statista numbers are based on that. And at least they looks close enough.

    2. Much of that late stage Smartphone growth and 4G Shipment were from China and India. China started their FDD LTE later than most other countries, and was not well prepared for the 3G to 4G transition. ( Technically it was more of politics rather than Technology at play, but that is another story )

    3. It is also worth remembering iPhone only happens in 2007, iPhone 4 in 2010, and most of the world at the time still dont have Smartphone. Comparatively Speaking 2010 was still in the early stage of Smartphone Revolution. And again, the 3G to 4G transition was not well prepared at the time, not to mention the Change from Circuit Switching 3G to Packet Switching 4G was a much more difficult transition than 4G to 5G, which is ( Comparatively Speaking ) more of a evolutionary changes.

    4. 5G is also well prepared, most developed nations would have started upgrading their Cell Tower as early as 2018 and only required software update to support a subset of 5G.

    5. China is pushing 5G. And as you can see from the Qualcomm Keynote, most of their partners are Chinese, and they are also the volume players in both China and India. The Top 10 Brand of Smartphone Shipment are all Chinese except Samsung and Apple. ( That is Huawei, Honor, Xiaomi, Oppo, VIVO, OnePlus, Realme, Lenovo ). If I remember correctly these Top 10 Brands ( Some of them are Brands of the Same Companies, such as Huawei and Honor ) combined to command close to if not more than 80% of the Market shipment.

    6. There are lots of reason for China to push for 5G, one of them is population density and Cost / GB. As well as patents and all sort of other reason.

    7. China intends to Refarm most if not ALL possible spectrum to 5G, leaving minimal spectrum for 4G operation. So if you still want to enjoy the Internet, you will need to upgrade your Phone, otherwise you will see a degraded experience with their 4G network.

    8. There are currently close to 1B 4G Subscribers in China alone. I would not be surprised if 600M of those are 5G by 2022.

    9. The world currently ships about ˜1.2B Smartphone per year, from now to 2022 would mean a third of all Shipment to be 5G. Considering the largest Single market is pushing it, I dont think that is too far fetched.
  • 808Hilo - Saturday, December 7, 2019 - link

    A phone? I am tired of phones. I dont use the phone part of my phone very often. I limit my time on this type of device. My 3 year old phone has no carrier anymore. I use wifi. The device design, durability and use profiles are costly to me as user. I stopped spending 500$ per year on access. Carriers are corpses. I dont like their pricing, product and support and business case. I start with ending the leaching.

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