Smartphone used at night

View from India: 5G on its way to India as smartphones remain popular

Image credit: Savenkomasha |

India is preparing for the commercial rollout of 5G products in 2022. As a market, opportunities are expected to open up for every player in the value chain.

The smartphone market has shown resilience during the pandemic and declined by just 4 per cent last year. Though the sales have decreased, the market has undergone a transition in the period from April 2020 to March 2021. “Snapshots of the wireless industry indicate that the total broadband subscribers in India are 778.09 million as of March 2021. The data consumption per subscriber per month is 13.5GB as of December 2020. This makes India the world’s highest data consumer,” said Vikram Tiwathia, deputy director general, Cellular Operator Association of India, speaking at ‘5G in India: Levelling Up Experiences and Accessibility,’ realme’s India 5G Webinar in partnership with Counterpoint Research.

There is a pattern in the consumption of mobile phones. The average Indian user has used two to three generation of mobile phones, including the basic-feature phone as well as the smartphone. Now many basic-feature phone users have oriented themselves to the smartphone. Online services, mobile wallets and e-commerce have brought first timers into the smartphone circuit. However, some of them are less affluent and have chosen the entry-level smartphone. By next year, the new users are likely to replace their smartphone with high-tech variants. While those who are already accustomed to the smartphone are looking forward to the upcoming 5G phones.

The sales of 5G smartphone in India are projected to surpass that of the 4G smartphone. “With design capabilities in place, the device should be future ready to woo end-users. Moreover, Indians tend to replace their smartphone once in 24 months either due to functionality or as a lifestyle choice. Around 31 million smartphones are expected to be sold in the country this year,” added Tarun Pathak, research director, Counterpoint Research.

Even as the 5G smartphone is awaited, there’s a lot of buzz about its design aesthetics and functionality. High-end flagship smartphones will have 5G networks, loaded with features like premium screens, high-performance chips and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled cameras.

5G offers a host of benefits. It is timed right as India is moving towards all-device connectivity. It also opens up opportunities for immersive games and 360-degree video sharing, which are connected through a hub known as 5G. “Encouragement comes from the digital scenario. The country is home to 50 billion internet users; and one billion smartphones have been sold in India since the last five years,” said Pathak.

5G will democratise and is projected to be a leveller. Digital readiness across verticals like health, auto and customer services are required to integrate 5G network on a mass scale. Data emerging from these verticals can be used to customise services as per the demand and also attract investments.

The challenge lies in making 5G affordable. “Our company has been working on multiple price points, including the Rs 10,000 bracket, which may happen sometime next year. The R&D resources are exploring possibilities to make the designs sleek and lower the weight of the phone below 180gm. It’s also intended to bring 5G processors for Indian users,” assured Madhav Sheth, vice president, realme and chief executive officer, realme India and Europe.  

In practical terms, adequate spectrum is required for 5G devices to connect to the tower. Telecom operators have picked up spectrum to enhance the network in the existing circles, as many networks are still in the 4G phase. All new applications require enhanced compute power; updates will have to happen across segments. Optical fibre rollout should be ramped up for 5G networks. The electric polls and TV antennas on top of the houses should align with the optical fibre. “A Google search established the fact that there have been a 245+ per cent growth in 5G-related searches on Google search (June 2021 versus June 2020). Likewise, there has been a 326+ per cent growth in 5G-related searches on YouTube search (June 2021 versus June 2020),” explained Sheth.

Sales of smartphones are being accelerated due to the pandemic – working from home has increased the need for smartphones and Wi-Fi connectivity. “Now with 5G, we foresee an increased interaction between humans and devices/machines including smartphones, remote devices, broadband and data cards. All this will leverage the properties of 5G,” explained Kuldeep Malik, director, corporate sales, MediaTek India.

The smartphone market in India is dynamic enough to meet customer expectations. The growing smartphone ecosystem is fuelling the app economy. “Most of the phones sold so far were in the mid-tier smartphone segment, with almost 80 per cent of consumers opting for phones below US$200. 4G-capable device penetration reached 77 per cent at pan-India level in 2020,” highlighted Cellular Operator Association of India's Tiwathia.

From calling and texting, the mobile phone has evolved from 2G to 5G, which is expected to ring in a new experience.

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