Apple and Samsung Flagship Devices Driving Shipments of 5G mmWave Smartphones

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By David McQueen | 2Q 2021 | IN-6192

As the 5G market continues to evolve, 5G mmWave-enabled phones will become more prominent.

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5G mmWave Smartphones to Account for a Quarter of All 5G Smartphone Shipments in 2021


According to ABI Research, the global 5G smartphones market is set to show phenomenal growth in 2021, reaching over 500m units, driven by an acceleration down the price tiers improving affordability and adoption. Forming an integral part of this volume is the expected rise in shipments of mmWave-enabled phones, accounting for 25% of 5G sales in 2021, compared to less than 7% in 2020, growing to command a 43% share by 2026.

Resolution of Complexity and Ecosystem Expansion Behind Extensive Growth of 5G mmWave Smartphones


The 5G smartphone market is becoming the most accelerated mobile technology generation ever, offering an extensive opportunity across the network options of both 5G sub-6 Gigahertz (GHz) and mmWave, which can enable ultra-fast data throughput using very short-range networks. Up until now the use of mmWave in smartphones has been limited at best, but this is about to change. By implementing mmWave technology in tight combination with 5G New Radio (NR) sub-6 GHz and dual connectivity with LTE, it can provide new business opportunities and enhanced mobile experiences, while supporting advanced mobility features.

It was not so long ago that the practical use of 5G NR mmWave technology in mobile devices had been severely challenging, owing mostly to the significant restrictions of limited network coverage, uncertainties of its range extension in non-line of site environment, and being overtly costly to implement. Despite these initial market concerns, many technology barriers have since been overcome and now 5G mmWave in smartphones is set to grow extensively in 2021 and beyond. The underlying complexity and added cost that mmWave brings have been incrementally addressed using an evolved system approach and rapid miniaturization of fully integrated RF module designs, presently led by Qualcomm. Such an approach has helped bring mmWave to compact smartphone industrial designs while improving performance, latency, reliability, and efficiency.

5G mmWave Hits Critical Mass in Smartphones After 2023, and Provides Extended-range FWA


The rise in 5G mmWave smartphones sales will not only be boosted by its inclusion in greater numbers of smartphone models, driven by Samsung’s flagship devices and Apple’s iPhone 12 SKUs, but also by expanding ecosystem momentum. From a slow start, mainly limited to the U.S. market, the impetus behind mobile mmWave continues to build as a number of regions are targeting deployments, broadening across North America, Europe, and Asia. This expansion has been led by operators in Japan, Russia, South Korea, and Australia, with China expected to enroll in early 2022, coinciding with its hosting of the Winter Olympics.

The chipset market has also been boosted by the addition of MediaTek into the mix, with the announcement of its new 5G modem, which combines mmWave and sub-6 GHz 5G technologies onto a single chip. Moreover, as use of fixed wireless access (FWA) grows globally as an alternative to fixed broadband services, the use of 5G mmWave is also expected to expand. This owes much to improvements in 5G FWA chipset reference designs and platforms, notably from Qualcomm, delivering an extended-range solution for mmWave networks that can take FWA beyond urban and high-density areas and into areas that are more rural.

Despite continued growth of mmWave in smartphones, the feature is not expected to hit critical mass of shipments in 2021. It will take time to migrate from the high-end to mid-range because of the still prohibitive costs and effect on user experiences. For these reasons, it is unlikely to hit the low-end smartphone sector before 2026. However, there is expected to be a mmWave smartphone sales inflection point by 2023, as it is predicted that by this stage mobile operators will need to extend their 5G network capacity and performance beyond sub-6GHz, forcing many to turn to mmWave. From here, the market is to see a momentum swing towards mmWave, and a notable uptick in available smartphone models, as well as FWA devices, as it quickly becomes the only option to increase 5G capacity and provide an extension in performance.



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