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The Indian 5G smartphone market 2025

At MWC19, the all-new, renamed ‘Mobile World Congress’, at Barcelona, 5G dominated the discourse. While this is a good first step, it is important to recognize that the road ahead is filled with challenges, arising from limited to no network coverage for 5G. What will be the contours for 5G in India? What about India-specific use cases? India is looking to embrace 5G with a transformative focus on use cases in healthcare, education, agriculture, manufacturing, social and financial inclusion.

That said, the focus of this article is on 5G smartphones. And specifically, touching upon how many 5G-capable mobile phones will ship in India.

At the MWC19, we witnessed the debut of 5G chipsets and 5G capable devices. Smartphone brands, including the likes of Huawei, Xiaomi and Samsung showcased their 5G smartphones at the MWC19. Some others debuted their 5G concept devices, including the likes of OnePlus.

It will be early 2020 when 5G adoption will slowly kick-in. The current 5G use cases, from the perspective of telecom operators, are more focused on B2B enterprise and industrial applications, in sharp contrast to the earlier generations (such as 4G) where B2C use cases and services were highlighted.

Qualcomm has played a pivotal role in the development of 5G. As 5G becomes a reality, almost all the major Android manufacturers, ranging from Samsung to Xiaomi, from OnePlus to Oppo, are partners to Qualcomm. Some other chipset vendors, such as Huawei and MediaTek, are also preparing to challenge Qualcomm. MediaTek, for instance, works with  some major smartphone brands, including the likes of Oppo, Vivo, and other major Chinese handset makers.

As per CMR internal estimates, the initial outlook for 5G smartphones in India is very modest. The first wave of 5G-capable devices will hit the India market by 2020, and will potentially constitute a mere 2 million in units.  Over the course of the next five years leading up to 2025, CMR anticipates 5G smartphone shipments to potentially account for 16% of global shipments.

The pace for 5G adoption and uptake in India will depend on the plans of Reliance Jio Infocomm. It is prudent to recall Jio’s contribution to the exponential rise in 4G shipments in India.

With the impending 5G spectrum auctions in India, it is only Jio that has shown its readiness and interest in pushing for early 5G auctions. Jio will look to 5G for maintaining its continued leadership and leveraging further its market share in revenues. It will also look at preventing any potential challenge and competition from rivals, including the likes of  Vodafone-Idea and Bharti Airtel gaining in scale in the 4G segment.

In terms of technology movement, the advent of 5G in 2021  will signal the end of 3G in India. On the other hand, 4G technology will still continue to dominate, and constitute over 80% of mobile phone shipments until 2025.

To achieve success in 5G, Jio would need to collaborate swiftly with other stakeholders in the ecosystem, including device makers as well as chipset vendors. CMR estimates point that 5G smartphone shipments will top 144 million by 2025, on the back of Jio's aggressive push.

All said, if one were to look beyond the current hype, and if all stakeholders are able to navigate through the maze of pressing challenges, the long-term outlook for 5G phones is, indeed, optimistic. All we need is patience and pragmatism.

Prabhu Ram heads the Industry Intelligence Group at CMR. He writes at www.prabhu-ram.com.