China’s telcos seen aggressively marketing 5G in wake of new mobile number portability policy

5G devices will account for more than half of all smartphones shipped worldwide in just five years, according to new research published this week.

Close to 800 million 5G-enabled handsets will ship in 2023, which equates to 51.4% of all smartphones shipped, putting 5G devices ahead of 4G for the first time, Canalys analysts predicted.

The rapid growth rate will be driven in no small part by China, which will account for 34% of 5G smartphone shipments in 2023, compared with 19% for North America and 17% for Asia-Pacific.

The country is in a well-document race with the US and other major global markets for 5G leadership and government ambitions meant licences were awarded ahead of schedule last month. Current big three operators China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom were all granted licences, as was mobile market newcomer China Broadcasting Network.

"The role of the Chinese government and the well-orchestrated joint investments of operators and equipment suppliers were critical to this earlier commercial launch," said Nicole Peng, vice president of mobility at Canalys.

As early as next year, 17.5% of smartphones shipped in China will be 5G-capable, rising to 62.7% in 2023, the analyst firm predicts, noting that a strong government technology roadmap and the financial capabilities of the country’s telcos will drive rapid adoption.

"China is also home to many major 5G equipment suppliers and smartphone vendors, which will be responsible for an aggressive marketing push over the next few years, Peng said.

China’s telcos will together invest US$5 billion (€4.4 billion) in 5G this year alone, rolling out 70,000-90,000 5G base stations.

"Given the government has just implemented the long-awaited mobile number portability policy, all three operators will be even more aggressive with promotions to target 5G early adopters and high-value customers later this year," analyst Mo Jia said.

Jia noted that China’s homegrown vendors Huawei, ZTE, Xiaomi and Oppo are all supplying 5G phones to the country’s telcos, while Samsung will use 5G as it bids to regain some ground in China.

"Yet Apple will miss out, leaving loyal iPhone users waiting another year, which might risk them switching to aggressive competitors," he said.