Global shipments of 5G smartphones are expected to reach 605 million devices in 2021. The popularity of the iPhone 12, combined with the mid-September launch of the iPhone 13, has Apple poised to sell approximately 200 million devices, according to Counterpoint.
One reason these units may fly off the shelves, according to Jeff Fieldhack, research director for Counterpoint, is that iPhone users are ready for new devices. As of early 2021, the Apple iPhone 7 was more widely used than the iPhone 12. “Even without ‘must-have’ specs, there will be tremendous appetite for upgrading because the iOS base is so old in the U.S. Holding periods are nearing four years,” he said.
Another factor may be the increased utilization of 5G nationwide. Even as the U.S. remains the driver of global 5G device sales, limited 5G availability and slow speeds have left consumers in many cities with no reason to upgrade.
The 5G landscape has changed dramatically in 2021. Carriers finally got their hands on the midband spectrum, C-band, that offers a great combination of speed and range for 5G services. AT&T and Verizon spent more than $80 billion on C-band licenses to build out their 5G infrastructure. C-band spectrum won’t be dedicated to 5G until December, but the investment seems likely to pay off. T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G rollout made it the fastest wireless carrier for the first time.
T-Mobile has an edge right now, but the other carriers aren’t far behind. T-Mobile will need to win iOS customers over to its service while the competitors are still implementing 5G. Verizon and AT&T are expected to begin their 5G rollout in December. “The latter remains very aggressive upgrading both the base and switchers with aggressive promotions,” says Fieldhack.
As the biggest purchaser of C-band licenses, Verizon can’t afford to let those customers go to the competition. “Verizon will need to keep pace to avoid missing out on premium 5G subscribers,” he added.
“The promotions in [the fourth quarter] will be at very high levels — helping Apple,” Fieldhack points out.