The mobile industry’s hopes that the arrival of 5G smartphones will bring a much-needed immediate boost to slowing sales have been tempered by predictions that shipments will actually fall by three per cent in 2019.
CCS Insight says changing consumer behaviour and macroeconomic challenges will see sales in 2019 fall 1.8 billion.
"Yearly sales of 2 billion mobile phones seemed so close just a few years ago, but might become a distant dream for the industry,” said Marina Koytcheva, CCS Insight's vice president of forecasting.
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5G smartphone sales
The analyst firm has downgraded expectations in nearly every single market, predicting a nine per cent fall in China and a rise of just five per cent in India. However, it notes the Indian market is currently being affected by unique political and economic circumstances and predicts it will rebound relatively quickly, with sales reaching 400 million by 2023.
The same can’t be said for Western Europe, where market saturation, the high cost of flagship devices, and longer refresh cycles have all caused shipments to fall by a third over the past five years.
"We recently surveyed consumers in some key Western European markets and 35 per cent of them said they plan to keep their current phone for longer than their previous one,” added Koytcheva. “Only 13 per cent told us they will change their phone faster than in the past. This trend has slammed the brakes on Western European markets, and we believe similar dynamics are now having a dramatic impact in the US, where we forecast sales will drop 9 per cent in 2019.”
While this is good new for the second-hand market, which is expected to grow as a result, CCS Insight does believe that 5G will eventually help drive sales – even if initial shipments in 2019 are lower than previously thought.
Analysts believe 220 million 5G handsets will be sold in 2020, buoyed by a wider range of devices and the greater availability of networks. This figure will rise to 930 million in 2023, when 5G smartphones will account for nearly half of all mobile phones sold.
“History has shown that the introduction of a new 'G' always helps to energize demand for new phones, and 5G will be no exception,” said Koytcheva.
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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.