Apple Inc.’s iPhones led the mobile industry to a milestone in January, when handsets with fifth-generation cellular networking accounted for more than half of smartphone sales for the first time.
Phones with the advanced technology made up 51% of units sold, according to Counterpoint Research data. 5G connectivity is seen as a key enabler for transformative technologies such as autonomous driving and factory automation, with China being among the most aggressive nations in expanding its availability. China’s telecom watchdog has said the country will push 5G coverage by adding 600,000 base stations this year, elevating the total number to well above 2 million. The country also drives 5G handset sales for the world’s biggest mobile manufacturers.
Domestic brands Xiaomi Corp., Oppo and Vivo each had roughly 10% of global 5G sales, the majority of which came in China, the data showed. Apple’s market-leading 37% was also boosted by its strong position in the country. Samsung Electronics Co., which was first to introduce 5G-compatible devices in 2019 and remains the world’s biggest smartphone maker, was limited to a 12% share of the global 5G market because of its laggard status in China.
Earlier this month, Apple launched a 5G model in its budget-friendly iPhone SE series, lowering the entry price for faster connectivity to $429. That’s roughly half the company’s average flagship device price and may help secure its leading sales position. Apple bought Intel Corp.’s cellular-modem unit for $1 billion in 2019 with the intent of building its own 5G chips in the future. U.S. chip designer Qualcomm Inc. has largely dominated this business to date, with its Snapdragon systems-on-chip integrating processors and modems into a single module.