When you visit the official iPhone 12 landing page on Apple’s India website, you will notice that it has no mention of 5G, one of the USPs of this new phone. Instead, Apple says its flagship delivers “4G LTE at up to 2Gbps”. So the ‘speed’ aspect of the new phones will have to wait till India rolls out the next generation telecom technology in the country.
Experts believe Apple is aware that 5G makes no difference to consumers in India at the moment and this is why the company seems to be focusing on the features that will help sell the iPhone 12 lineup during the festive season.
“India, the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing smartphone market, is still at least a year away from having a 5G network”, says Irfan Khan, partner at Yaap, a multi-specialized digital content marketing and design company. “So the 5G part of the new iPhone 12 series will not be relevant for customers in India at this moment, except for boasting of having the latest technology.”
Fifth-generation, or 5G, mobile internet services are already available in many parts of the world including the US, South Korea, the UK, among other countries. It’s the next generation of mobile internet connection that offers much faster data download and upload speeds. However, the reality is that even if you buy a 5G-capable phone today, the day-to-day experience isn’t going to be any different.
India has delayed the 5G spectrum auction in India until 2021 citing the outbreak of Covid-19 and the poor financial health of the telecom industry. This means the country is already behind in deploying 5G networks. An important thing to note is that building 5G networks will take time, especially in a massive country like India. So even if telcos launch 5G services latest by 2022, it will be limited to certain pockets initially.
Yash Jethani, Research Manager, Telecommunications, IDC Asia/Pacific argues that the launch of 5G-ready iPhone 12 lineup isn’t enough for Airtel and Jio to put pressure on the government to initiate the spectrum auction. Postpaid subscribers in India remain just 4% to 5% of the overall market and combined with Apple’s tiny market share in the smartphone market, it makes no sense for major telecom operators to build pressure on the government to speed up the spectrum auction process, Jethani added.
But Apple isn’t the only player currently offering 5G smartphones in India. Samsung, OnePlus and Xiaomi also sell 5G-ready smartphones in India. “Any meaningful 5G adoption will depend on the ecosystem of end-to-end offerings and services and not just smartphones – so an operator going forward has to think of an agile inventory of digital products and services encompassing not just smart devices but also smart home, smart living, smart working, and smart environment,” he added.
“India will probably wait for the 5G auctions,” said Jethani. “The fixed-line connectivity penetration in India is currently not encouraging to support indoor 5G use cases. Even the outdoor infrastructure (data centers, edge, and pole masts) needs to be properly thought of. So although Jio clamours for 5G, the fixed-line connectivity needs to support that bullish ‘digital India’ theme.” IDC expects 4.5 million 5G subscribers in India by FY2021-22 (March 2022) led primarily through Jio.
5G comes in two formats — millimeter wave (mmWave) and sub-6 GHz and both use different types of radio signals to send and receive the data. The mmWave 5G is useful for indoor locations like stadiums and concert halls where high performance is needed in a limited range, while Sub-6 5G has a longer range but a bit slower.
Jethani says the iPhone 12 will help launch new types of applications that will take advantage of 5G. But for the Indian market, he said, a lot depends on the price of a use case that an operator is able to support on the 5G NSA radio.
The big reason to buy the iPhone 12 (all four iPhone 12 models in India support sub-6GHz band) today will be to future-proof for whenever India decides to switch on 5G. “Apple users hold on to the devices for a long time, at least 2 years +. So, any consumer still using the iPhone 12 in 2022-23 would be now able to make use of 5G speeds, even if not in 2021,” explained Navkendar Singh, Research Director, IDC India and South Asia.
“I see Apple using a two-pronged strategy to market this device in India,” said Khan. “It can market the iPhone 12 as a phone that raises the bar with it being sleeker, tougher and most powerful iPhone ever for the masses. On the other hand, it can push the iPhone 12 Pro as a phone for the future for its premium segment.”
For those consumers who are planning to buy the iPhone 12, the new smartphone offers plenty of upgrades like a faster processor, a better camera and a new design. In fact, there are four iPhone models to choose from including a 5.4-inch iPhone 12 which starts at Rs 69,900. “The iPhone 12 has a lot more going for it especially for the Indian market. Apple has strategically launched its online store in India just weeks before the launch of iPhone 12, which is a welcome development and plugs in a major digital gap. This will enable Apple to roll out trade-in options directly to its consumers during the launch of iPhone 12 this festive season,” Khan said.
Singh says it’s “too early” to comment on the reception for new iPhones in India but he believes that a lot of iPhone X users and those using older iPhone models might buy one of the iPhone 12 variants. “The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are expected to do well, whereas the iPhone 12 Mini shall appeal to a very specific set of consumers who are looking for a no-compromise small device,” he said.