In January 2022 sales penetration of 5G-capable smartphones reached 51% globally, which represented the first time it exceeded that of 4G smartphones, according to Counterpoint Research.

The analyst firm’s Global Monthly Handset Model Sales Tracker claims that China, North America and Western Europe were the biggest drivers of this growth. China clocked the highest 5G handset penetration in the world at 84%, while North America and Western Europe reached 73% and 76% respectively.

In North America and Western Europe Apple is at the top pot representing a sales share of over 50% and 30% respectively.

The release states: “After Apple shifted to 5G in October 2020 with the iPhone 12 Series, North America and Western Europe saw a natural increase in the sales penetration of 5G smartphones. These regions are expected to continue contributing substantially to 5G sales globally, as even without offering competitive specs, there is an immense and ongoing demand for a 5G upgrade within the iOS user base. This demand is also fuelled by iPhone users who are ready for new devices after years of holding on to their older iPhones. For many, holding periods are nearing four years, the average replacement cycle for iPhones.”

The report claims cheaper Android 5G smartphones ($150-$250) made up a fifth of the 5G sales in January, driven by the availability of lower cost chips from MediaTek and Qualcomm, and that in regions still dominated by 4G (Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Latin America) the sub-$150 price segment is the ‘sweet spot’ for selling more 5G phones.

Of course when most of the new smartphones entering the market are 5G enabled, then pretty soon most of the phones bought are going to be in that category too. It’s a bit like when analysts used to track sales of 3D capable TVs, a category which for a period a decade or so ago covered every new TV that was being launched, such was the buzz at the time. Rising numbers in that category didn’t automatically mean many people cared about 3D, but at times it was certainly spun that way.

Similarly in the developed world clocking the number of 5G smartphones sold in and of itself doesn’t necessarily prove soaring consumer demand for 5G – a sale could be just as much driven by the fact someone wanted the latest iPhone or it was just time for an upgrade, in either case they are given a 5G device whether they specifically wanted one or not.

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