Premium smartphones capable of delivering 5G speeds will be available in India by late 2019 or early 2020, in line with global availability, making their way faster to the country than any previous generation.
Industry officials and analysts say 5G smartphones for segments lower down the price chain should be available by later 2020, even as telecom gear vendors and operators prepare themselves for field trials starting January next year. Korean handset maker Samsung and Chinese players such as OnePlus, Huawei, Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi have revealed their 5G smartphone launch plans.
"All devices, which will be launched globally, will have 5G as well as 4G, so the SKUs (semi-knocked down units) for India, at least in the flagship segments, will have 5G from 2019 onwards," Navkendar Singh, associate research director at IDC India, said. “The mass segments of less than $200, which is more than 80% of the market, will see 5G capable devices from late 2019 or 2020 onwards.”
Counterpoint Research's associate director Tarun Pathak said 5G smartphones are likely to make their way faster in India as compared to any previous generation, but the 5G spectrum allocations will be critical. "We think late 2020/early 2021 might be the year when we can see the mass availability of such devices in India."
Globally, the US has already seen the launch of limited commercial 5G services with mass roll-outs expected early next year, while countries like South Korea, Japan, China and some countries in Europe plan to have commercial 5G launches in early 2019.
In India, 5G roll-out is unlikely to be among the first wave of launches though. India plans to have larger 5G field trials next year, and spectrum auction in the second half of 2019 to launch 5G commercially by 2020. The government is making all efforts to keep the timeline for the next-generation technology, which could have an economic impact of more than $1 trillion in the country.
Speaking on the 5G phone launch, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei told ET that the company wants to be the first player to offer 5G phones globally. Jim Xu, global vice president for Huawei's consumer business group, separately told ET that the company will launch its 5G smartphone, powered by Kirin 980 chipset, by the middle of next year.
"We are planning to launch 5G phones globally and are equipped to introduce it in India as well once the telecom operators expand the bandwidth for a smoother 5G operation,” said Nipun Marya, director, brand strategy, Vivo India.
Reliance Jio, which is a pure 4G player, expects the 5G ecosystem to be ready in India by 2019-20 but affordable devices for mass adoption of the service will start coming to India in 2021.
Prabhu Ram, head at industry intelligence group CMR, said the first meaningful sale of 5G smartphones in India is expected by 2020, and with an uptick from 2021 onwards, by which time, the 5G ecosystem should be functional.
IDC's Singh said the 5G ecosystem in India is expected to be ready by the second half of 2019, and that depends on 5G spectrum availability.
"US is ready, major European countries are also ready, China, Japan will be ready by 2019 start. India remains the largest market of its size, which needs to speed up the spectrum allocation for the ecosystem to grow quickly, in sync with other markets," Singh added.