Should We Rush to Buy a 5G Smartphone Yet?

The question that arises out of the current scenario is: why are we, the customers, being sold a technology which we are not ready for and why is it trailing by a huge margin in terms of 4G data speeds when compared to other developing and developed nations?

Bhuvan Malhotra

Tech Enthusiast, Management Student

In layman terms, 5G is the next/new generation of the mobile network. It is a global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G. 5G after implementation aims to connect everything virtually that includes devices, objects, and machines.

5G is expected to bring ultra-high data speeds (Gbps) and more reliable connectivity to the masses. However, it is still a long way off from being a reality in India, at least according to Sweden-based network equipment giant Ericsson, that claims that 5G will likely be available in the country only from 2022.

While the plans were set for the auction of the spectrum by GOI earlier in 2020, it has been delayed due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Without the spectrum sale, 5G is as good as a concept for the telecommunication giants of India – Jio, Airtel & Vodafone/Idea. Out of the three giants, Jio, with all the recent foreign investments from global leading firms, has claimed that 5G’s trials will start as soon as the spectrum is available, with field deployments ready for next year (2021). Time shall only tell how the timeline unfolds.

But this ‘concept’ of 5G has already penetrated the Indian smartphone market and is possibly changing the dynamics, without even being a tangible reality. Global manufacturers such as Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, Samsung, LG, Asus, OnePlus, and more have started to offer the Indian users 5G compatible smartphones in the premium flagship (Rs 30,000 +) and midrange (Rs 20,000 – 30,000) segments. Their value communication has also changed from focus shifting to 5G connectivity being the USP from 2019 to 2020.

The Indian customers in 2020 are being ‘convinced’ to become future-ready – a future that practically is more than 2 years away from now. The question that arises out of the current scenario is: why are we, the customers, being sold a technology which we are not ready for, given that we are already trailing by a huge margin in terms of 4G data speeds when compared to other developing and developed nations?

The answer can be primarily narrowed down to the most important part of any smartphone: the processor. So currently there are a handful of chipmakers that dominate the market: Qualcomm, MediaTek, Huawei’s Kirin, and Samsung’s Exynos. Qualcomm, considered as the best in class in terms of quality and performance by smartphone users and manufacturers, produces iterations of its processors, year after year for a flagship, and midrange smartphones and is the chip of choice for most manufacturers. It essentially is a monopoly situation wherein every manufacturer wants to put a Qualcomm chip in their smartphone – to please the end-users.

The latest flagship and midrange offerings from Qualcomm: Snapdragon 865 and Snapdragon 765G respectively are processors that ship with built-in 5G modems that guarantee to support multiple 5G bands globally – when they are operational. While these processors will not help the Indian audience anytime soon, they are being purchased by the smartphone manufacturers and put in their phones to meet the ever-changing customer expectations (newer features) and differentiate themselves from the competition.

The downside of this shift in focus to 5G is that these ‘future-ready’ smartphones are much more expensive than non-5G compatible models. In some of the cases, this gap is in the ballpark figure of 5,000 to 10,000. This becomes an issue when price-sensitive Indian users start benchmarking the much higher 2020 smartphone costs to the 2019 cost they would have been used to.

India for the better part of the last decade has been one of the high-growing smartphone markets and understandably every manufacturer wants to have the largest piece of the pie. But with rising GST on smartphones (18% from 12%) and more expensive processors, 5G, a marketing gimmick for now threatens a slowdown in this market. What eventually will happen, time shall tell.

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