Apple’s four new iPhone 12 series smartphones are all 5G capable, the first devices from the tech giant to have the new generation of telecom network technology. Apple is quite late with 5G, given that rival Samsung launched its first phone, the Galaxy S10 5G, in early 2019. But then Apple is often late in adopting new technologies, and with good reason.
Till the start of 2020, a 5G phone would have had limited markets to sell in and was hence considered a luxury, commanding a higher price point. Even as price points came down and new manufacturers announced 5G phones, a lot of purchases were to future-proof for network upgradation and not because there was a real use case available.
At the moment, 65 countries have at least one 5G service, which in no way implies that the service is available across the country or accessible to all users. As per an Ericsson estimate, 60 per cent of the world’s population will have access to 5G by 2025.
So, most of the 5G devices launched till a few months back have been mere showcases of the latest technology, relevant only in a few markets like South Korea. And this is why none of the smartphone makers went to the extent of switching on 5G for their entire bouquet of devices. However, in the past few months, especially with the pandemic making work from home a necessity, a lot of new use cases are opening up, especially in terms of enhanced mobile broadband or EMBB, which will take high-speed connectivity to houses without the need for fibre.
How will new iPhones impact the 5G sector?
With 5G yet to become widespread, it did not make much sense for Apple to announce a 5G phone last year. Cupertino has always been cautious of new technologies, unless it is something they are pioneering. Now, Apple has launched the entire iPhone 12 series with 5G. During the Apple Event Tuesday, CEO Tim Cook announced the new phones will work with over 100 network partners across the world.
Why will Apple make 5G mainstream?
In markets like the US, Australia and Japan, where Apple is dominant, a new iPhone series triggers a huge refresh cycle, with millions of users moving from older iPhones to the latest ones. In this refresh cycle, all the users will move to 5G. Overnight, the number of 5G users across these mature markets will multiply many-fold.
To make the transition easier, Apple is making the monthly subscription fee cheaper with partners like Verizon. For Apple, the blazing fast speeds 5G will provide, along with the new breed of services, will offer a better reason for its users to buy a new phone and not hold on to an older device for longer than needed. This has been cited as one of the reasons for Apple’s sluggish growth in devices in recent years.
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Even in markets where 5G is still not an option, the new iPhones will promise a captive base of users whenever the network providers decide to switch. In fact, this captive base of top-end users could even be an incentive for many service providers to invest in 5G services. Given that Apple users have always been at the top of the pyramid when it comes to consumption of data and services, their getting access to 5G will open up many new possibilities for service providers and app developers too.
Such a mass effect across geographies is not usually seen if a Samsung or OnePlus moves to a new technology. This push will ultimately benefit the entire smartphone market, where 5G has so far been a luxury service hovering along the fringes.
What about India?
India, the world’s second largest and fastest growing smartphone market, is still at least a year away from getting its first 5G network. So the 5G part of the new iPhone 12 series will not be relevant for users here for now.
They will, however, have phones that are capable of latching on to these high-speed networks whenever India decides to allocate spectrum for the new generation of telecom technology. As of now, India has not yet started trials for the same and is unlikely to be able to start services before end of 2021.
Thankfully, a certain part of the installed hardware from companies like Ericsson could be able to switch over with just a software upgrade. So at least some of the Indian service providers will be able to switch to 5G relatively easily, though maybe not across their network or in all locations.
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But 5G is still a very new technology and much deeper than what other generational upgrades in telecom have been. Some call 5G akin to a fabric and this means you could see new implementations, especially in markets like India, where it could plug the gap of last mile connectivity to rural areas or decongest existing networks by taking over the load of high-speed connectivity in homes and offices.
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