5G smartphones are now available in India, but what’s the point?
Realme and iQoo are hyping their new phones as India’s first 5G phones. But does it make sense for you to buy one even though there’s no 5G network? What’s in for smartphone enthusiasts and brands? We explain.
India is far behind the West and China to embrace the next-generation telecommunications network, 5G. This, however, hasn't stopped smartphone companies from launching "5G phones" in India. Since there's no 5G network and unlikely to be available in the next couple of years, the buzz around so-called India's first 5G phones seems nothing less than marketing hype. For Indian consumers, the question is should they buy a phone just for the 5G?
At the helm of everything 5G in India right now is Qualcomm that came out with the 5G modems, and more recently with the Snapdragon 865. Realme and iQoo launched X50 Pro 5G and iQoo 3 smartphones respectively. Both of the phones are powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, the chip bundled with 5G modem. Xiaomi also pulled off something similar but just a "showcase" of its Snapdragon 855-powered Mi Mix Alpha concept phone.
Qualcomm says it is betting big on the futureproof-ness by ringing Snapdragon 865 to smartphones in the country. And these smartphones, even though losing their 'most powerful' tag by the time 5G comes to India, will still be ready for the particular network bands and you won't have to get a new handset altogether.
But the argument can be countered with the fact that Indian smartphone users tend to upgrade their phones quite soon. According to 91mobiles Smartphone Buyer Insights Study 2019, 2 out of 5 Indians replace their smartphones every 12 months. Another 2019 survey by Counterpoint said that the "replacement cycles among the potential premium smartphone buyers, who are currently using a smartphone priced above ₹20,000, are around two years.
Sachin Kalantri, Senior Director, Product Marketing, Qualcomm India, said, "The global handset ecosystem will start moving towards 5G and more affordable handsets are expected later part of the year. Aligning with global trends has its own benefits and will bring cost optimizations for discernible Indian consumers. Although many consumers do not use handsets for more than a year, these handsets get handed down. As such, someone of the other using that handset can become the beneficiary of the technology. Further, as you travel to a 5G enabled region/country, the user will be able to take advantage of the services."
Kalantri further explained that we've often seen devices with upcoming features, reaching the hands of users before the country making full use of it. This is what happened with 3G and 4G connectivity as well. So, having a 5G smartphone in India right now is not something new or something to be questioned a lot.
"As we have seen with the previous generations - 3G and 4G, devices with support for these technologies were launched even before the networks were available in a larger region. Launching a 5G smartphone will provide an impetus to the mobile ecosystem for a faster 5G adoption," he added.
Realme on 5G phones in India
Realme India's CEO Madhav Sheth, however, adds that '5G' is not the only reason why the company introduced its Realme X50 Pro series in India. But the support does make it future proof.
"The Realme X50 Pro is a 4G/5G top-notch flagship even for 4G users. We did not launch it solely because of 5G, we launched it because it is the ultimate flagship smartphone. The Realme X50 Pro is a future-ready device, as the evolution to 5G might start soon. India may not have the infrastructure at the moment, but the country is 5G ready. We want to set a new benchmark by creating a technologically advanced, fully-fledged 5G experience for our fans who always want to experience the latest tech. Also, consumers traveling abroad can use the handset as the technology is available in many developed countries," he told Hindustan Times.
Sheth even confirmed that Realme plans to bring 5G smartphones across all price points, indirectly hinting that it might be already working with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 765G 5G processor for upper-mid range handsets.
But all in all, more than 5G, Sheth wants tech enthusiasts to experience how the Snapdragon 865 feels in a Realme device.
"We want all tech enthusiasts to experience the chipset capability. We are not expecting volumes as the segment is just 3% of the overall smartphone market. Apart from 5G, realm X50 Pro is a 4G/5G top-notch flagship even for the 4G user," he said.
5G for users, brands
Should we buy a 5G smartphone so early? Are we really in a sore need of a refresh? If you ask us, or rather anyone with the knowledge, it'll probably be a big 'NO'. But brands are not just looking for 5G here, they seem to have another answer to fall back to, which is also legit - to deliver the most powerful and feature-rich smartphones at affordable prices. That's when you completely ignore 5G.
Parv Sharma, research analyst, Devices and Ecosystem from Counterpoint, explained that although 5G is not here in India, it somewhere shows the technological prowess of the brand. And more than 5G, adding 'competitive specifications' will make more sense for OEMs right now.
"5G network availability in India is a year or two behind the global launch. Initially, 5G smartphones are available in the high-mid end segment. Launching 5G smartphones in India will help the OEMs in showing their technical prowess and market themselves. But these will not be widely adopted as ASP of the Indian market is low and also due unavailability of 5G networks," Sharma said.
"5G smartphones in India this year may be limited in the premium segment, as it will be challenging for OEM's to launch in the affordable segment due to extra BoM of 5G. Also adding competitive specifications for this extra price makes more sense than to launch 5G low-mid end smartphones without network support," he added.
The analyst agrees that by the time 5G hits India, most 5G supporting phones that have launched now will be reaching the end of life. "By the time 5G goes live in India, the 5G smartphones launched now will be near the end of life as the replacement cycle in India is around two years." So, if you are buying a 5G phone only because of '5G', it might not be the best decision.
At least for now, the launch of 5G smartphones won't affect the LTE phone's pricing in any way. It might only change once 5G becomes a reality in the country.