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5G roll-out no guarantee of smartphone upgrade bonanza

5G’s network success more or less guaranteed, but same can’t be said for 5G smartphones in short term as study finds only 30-40% of those in major markets such as the US, Europe and Australia likely to result in upgrade, while over 50% likely to do so in China

Even as this year’s CES presents a bewildering array of devices which are set to be connected through next-generation infrastructures, the smartphone is set to remain the dominant consumer device into the new decade – but the arrival of 5G will not guarantee a surge in device upgrades, according to research from GSMA Intelligence.

The report is based on GSMA Intelligence’s Consumer insights survey 2019, which questioned 38,000 respondents across 36 key markets. It sought to provide insight on consumer technology adoption trends, including the outlook for smartphones, smart speakers, wearables and other emerging categories.

GSMA Intelligence noted that operators and device manufacturers would need to understand consumer demand on a granular level to make the most of the 5G opportunity.

The research found that the device ecosystem would be critical in shaping the trajectory of 5G adoption, but consumers in different markets would not look at 5G upgrades in the same way. Only 30-40% of survey respondents in major markets such as the US, Europe and Australia said the arrival of 5G was likely to result in a smartphone upgrade in the short term.

By contrast, nearly half of Chinese consumers plan to buy a 5G phone as soon as they are available. That said, the country has the advantage of being home to some of the leading phone manufacturers – such as Huawei, Oneplus, Xiaomi, Realme, Oppo and Viv – which are making 5G devices at what are seen as very low price points by western European and US standards.

The survey also revealed that fragmentation and a lack of compatibility between manufacturers was continuing to dampen adoption of smart home devices. However, the analyst added that this segment was being buoyed by the popularity of smart speakers, which were increasingly acting as a single control point within the home.

Indeed, the study pointed out that speakers had become a key battleground in the wider development of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Amazon and Google were furthest ahead in this arena, but both face the challenge of getting customers to go beyond basic functionality to higher-value tasks.

While adoption rates of fitness trackers and smartwatches picked up in 2019, with millennials showing the strongest ownership rates. Connected health devices were under-represented among older populations, which the GSMA said was a missed opportunity for tech companies and governments given that such devices could facilitate remote monitoring for a range of conditions.

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