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5G devices with new form factors likely to grow fast

New form factors enable 5G monetization in new ways

5G devices with new form factors likely to grow fast

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Only 3 percent of 5G end-user device models announced so far are designed in a new form factor, such as drones, wearable devices or robots. But with the current uptake rate it is likely that they will soon appear at scale.

Key insights
  • It is expected that 5G end-user device models with new form factors will soon appear at scale, making it possible for service providers to monetize 5G in new ways.
  • Only 3 percent of announced 5G end-user device models can be categorized as application-specific devices with a different form factor than the typical communication devices (such as phones, customer premises equipment (CPE) and tablets

A review of device model growth over time reveals a clear correlation between device availability and service uptake. 5G subscription uptake is almost two years ahead of 4G subscription uptake at a similar time after the first network was launched. The number of 5G device models announced since the launch of 5G shows a similar uptake trend to that for 4G devices at the time. This is what could be expected, and one could debate which is the chicken and which is the egg in this case. Did the availability of networks drive the development of new models in the market? Or did the availability of devices drive service providers to launch 5G, and hence drive subscription uptake?

Regardless, devices and networks both need to be available at scale to drive substantial subscription uptake. The same can be seen for Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), where a steep increase in available CPE from many vendors drives growth in FWA connections across markets.

The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) tracks newly announced device models on a monthly basis. In its latest data,1 smartphones, PCs, tablets and various routers and CPE account for 97 percent of all announced 5G end-user devices (over 1,600 models).2 Of the remaining end-user devices, only 3 percent can be categorized as an application-specific (or use-case specific) device.3

This means that only around 50 such device models have been announced (not all being commercially available yet). It also indicates that many of these new types of 5G devices, which are targeting consumer and/or enterprise use cases, are hard to find in many markets as they have yet to be released for all available 5G spectrum bands.

It is worth remembering that after 4G was launched the growth of devices in this segment did not really take off until 2018 (see Figure 14), nearly a decade after 4G was launched, but over 1,200 application-specific devices have now been announced globally. Asset trackers, cameras, smart watches and vehicle on-board units are each all available in over 100 different models.
There are also many new types of smartphone accessories connected via Bluetooth or similar, that can already benefit from either a 4G or 5G connection. New types of 5G end-user devices are expected to soon appear at scale, making it possible for service providers to take advantage of new form factors to address new consumer and enterprise use cases.

Figure 14: Number of available application-specific end-user device models

The number of 5G device models announced since the launch of 5G shows a similar uptake trend as for 4G devices at the time.

There are already clear signs of a coming uptake of 5G services in several industries:

  • The industrial gateway ecosystem is in place and enables the industry to connect most industrial devices, machines and tools.
  • Industrial ruggedized 5G handsets have been launched and more are planned for 2023.
  • Mobile devices such as autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), drones and XR devices are already being connected by modules to a gateway. This is expected to accelerate in the coming years.

As innovation in 5G is picks up the pace, not only on the consumer side but also for enterprises, new application-specific devices will increase in number, possibly also in areas not yet considered.

Figure 15: 5G end-user device models announced

1 GSA GAMBoD data (December 2022).

2 This figure excludes 5G modules. Only end-user devices are considered.

3 Includes camera, vehicle on-board unit, encoder, drone, wearable device, robot, television, kiosk terminal/vending machine, and other niche devices.