5G phones set to help market rebound to pre-pandemic levels

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Gartner predicts worldwide smartphone sales to end users will rebound to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, thanks largely to delayed purchases of 5G devices.

Recent analyst estimates suggest the market returned to growth in Q4 2020 after a difficult few quarters caused by coronavirus. Macroeconomic uncertainty, coupled with lockdowns and social distancing measures across the globe, has had an inevitable impact on demand, physical retail, and manufacturer supply chains.

While 1.54 billion smartphones were sold in 2019, this figure dropped to 1.378 billion in 2020. However, Gartner believes there will be a 11.4% increase to 1.535 billion over the next 12 months.

2021 smartphone sales

“In 2020, consumers reduced spending on smartphones but availability of new products, will see users drive significant uptick in demand in 2021,” said Anshul Gupta, senior research director at Gartner. “The combination of delayed smartphone replacements and the availability of lower end 5G smartphones are poised to increase smartphone sales in 2021.”

Western Europe, mature Asia-Pacific markets and Latin America are expected to experience the greatest levels of growth. Increased 5G coverage and cheaper compatible smartphones will spur developed markets while buyers in emerging markets will be looking for a superior handset experience. In the case of the latter, 5G will be an optional extra.

Nonetheless, 5G will account for a third of all smartphones sold in 2021 with 539 million units shipped. This is more than double the 213.3 million recorded in 2020.

“5G is now a standard feature in premium smartphones, especially in the US, China, Japan and South Korea,” added Gupta. “Driven by lower-cost models, adoption is particularly aggressive in China, where 5G smartphone share is on pace to reach 59.5% in 2021. In addition, lower end 5G smartphones, which are becoming more prevalent outside China, are poised to drive more momentum for 5G smartphones in 2021 across all regions.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.