‘5G? No, we’re happy with 4G,’ consumers tell GSMA


People in six major countries have told the mobile industry’s trade association they are happy with 4G and don’t want to upgrade to 5G.

At the same time consumers in China, Saudi Arabia. South Korea and Turkey have said they are “ready and waiting” for 5G.

The survey – which is hardly good news for the industry – comes from GSMA Intelligence, the market research arm of the mobile industry’s trade association.

There was a little good news for the industry: 75% of people in the 21 countries surveyed had actually heard of 5G and they said they know what it is. But only four of those 21 countries – even though they include China, the world’s biggest market – are apparently eager for the new technology, meaning the industry must be starting to harbour doubts about the level of investment needed.

The developed countries showing limited enthusiasm for 5G, telling GSMA Intelligence that they are happy with 4G, were Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the US.

GSMA Intelligence published its report, The Future of Devices, at the Consumer Electronics Show, taking place in Las Vegas this week.

“The device ecosystem will be critical in shaping the trajectory of 5G adoption,” said Peter Jarich, head of GSMA Intelligence. “However, it’s a mistake to believe that consumers in every market will look at 5G upgrades in the same way. Operators and device manufacturers will need to understand consumer demand on a granular level if they hope to make the most of the 5G opportunity.”

China, South Korea and the US – in that order – were far and away the biggest supporters of 5G, according to the research. In China, 46% of all adults want 5G “as soon as possible” with another 24% wanting to upgrade “when my contract period ends” or at some unspecified point.

South Korea was the only other country with more than half of consumers saying they plan to upgrade. In the US, 28% said “as soon as it’s available” with another 13% planning a later upgrade.

The Future of Devices also covers the take-up of smart speakers and similar devices – now owned by 21% of households, according to the report. Meanwhile, it adds, the adoption rates for fitness trackers and smartwatches also picked up in 2019, and are now owned by 21% and 10% of adults.

On smartphones, the report notes that China accounts for 75% of production and 30% of sales. Global device growth rates now move in step with Chinese consumption patterns.

Most new smartphone users between 2018 and 2025 will be in China (453 million) and India (401 million). The other eight of the top ten markets are Indonesia (161 million), Nigeria (97 million), Pakistan (88 million), Bangladesh and the Philippines (69 million each), Vietnam (64 million), the US (55 million) and Japan (46 million).

Saturation, innovation fatigue and weakness in consumer incomes resulted in a two-year global smartphone sales downturn, but the trend over the last six months “gives grounds for cautious optimism” among manufacturers as 5G arrives, says GSMA Intelligence.

It adds: “Device vendors benefit from any upgrades that come with a new handset, but it is disconcerting that only 30% of people see a new smartphone as the reason for upgrading. 5G is still seen as predominantly a speed enhancement.”

GSMA Intelligence says: “Huawei has a commanding smartphone position in China. It has also expanded in Europe and the Middle East, which will serve as a stark warning to Samsung and Apple should it choose to leverage its vast scale economies and take an aggressive pricing approach to 5G handsets.”

The survey covered countries with 84.4% of global GDP, with fieldwork between August and December among 38,000 consumers.