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5G Smartphones on track for 210 models and almost 50% share of top 500 model shipments in Q3 2021

by David Kerr | Oct 07, 2021

The global smartphone market is dominated by a handful of mega brands from legacy incumbent leaders Apple and Samsung to volume leaders like Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo.

Of course, we should also not forget rising stars like Realme, OnePlus, Honor and Transsion. Rounding out the vendor list are fading stars like Huawei (politics), LG (planning and marketing deficit)led) and Lenovo-Motorola (recovering profitability as a niche player in a handful of markets compared to its former glory). 

At the model level there is significant fragmentation with 500 individual models tracked by SA capturing 93% of global shipment volume in the last quarter.  Additionally, there is of course the long tail of microvendors which SA also track. 

The top smartphone model share of shipments for Q2 2021 are shown below.

Over the last 8 quarters we have seen a meteoric rise in 5G shipments and sales starting in Asia then flowing to North America and then Europe. The number of 5G models commercially shipping among our list of top 500 brands has exploded from only 45 in Q1 2020 to well over 200 at the end of Q3 2021. Over the same timeframe 5G share of total global smartphone shipments has surged to almost 50% with another significant uplift expected in the all important Q4 holiday season and Q1 Asian new year. 


Apple and Samsung remain as strong players in overall volume and value share but with deeply contrasting portfolio options and plans.

Apple for example continues its very slim but optimized fast follower portfolio for upper income global citizens while Samsung continues it wide product for (almost) all segments approach. The contrasting approaches are summarized by looking at the number of models each brand has in the top 500 that are 5G.

Apple, the undisputed (for now) 5G volume leader has only 4 models with 5G compared to global overall market leader Samsung that has 16 models with 5G in our Q2 2021 tracking of 5G volumes.

5G like 4G before it has created a window of opportunity for disruption of the vendor share/brand leaderboard. The planning, centralized support and aggregated r&d behind 5G championed by the Chinese government has created a massive transition. China was a fast follower on 3G and 4G but is the clear leader in users, subscribers, traffic, cell sites and just about any other KPI regarding 5G operations. 

At the device/terminal level, Chinese vendors are gaining ground very quickly and are adeptly translating their first mover advantages and huge scale in their home markets to the first wave of international markets.

The notable exception for now is North America for geopolitical posturing reasons but we believe it is only a matter of time before other Chinese brands join OnePlus and TCL in the region as 5G competitors. 

The momentum behind Chinese brands can be seen by a count of 5G models each has among the global best selling 500 models below:

5G Models by Brand

q2 2021 5G Models

5G momentum is huge. Q3 was another excellent quarter. Q4 with new Apple devices, expanded number of operational 5G networks and heightened operator spending on 5G device incentives looks set to be a blockbuster despite the continued underwhelming use cases to date for consumers.  5G device prices at retail will continue to drop dramatically and the ability to buy a 4G device in leading will become even more challenging. 

Reach out to me to discuss and share your thoughts. 

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