562,656 Koreans go back to 4G

Realme price US$150 for 11/11 sale

5G has so few practical uses that half a million Koreans have gone back to 4G. The saving is modest; otherwise, millions would have gone back. 4G speeds averaged over 50 Mbps in 2019. 4G is probably much faster today.

5G averages 300 Mbps across about a third of the country. So what? What can you think of that runs much better at 300 Mbps than at 50 Mbps? The latency is about the same. YouTube, Facebook, 4K video, and almost everything else is exactly the same on 50 Mbps 4G or 300 Mbps 5G.

Korea expected 15 million 5G users by the end of 2020 but will only reach 10 or 11 million. 800,000 chose 5G in August 2019 as the carriers deeply discounted the phones. The carriers somehow agreed to stop the discounting and sales plummeted.

China’s 5G looks likely to be 170-180 million by yearend. That’s more than the 150 million Chinese target and the typical Western estimates of ~100 million. People refused to believe my Dec 2019 estimate that 2020 would see 210 million worldwide and 150 million in China. It will probably finish higher.

That’s because the price difference between 4G and 5G is collapsing. If the extra cost is modest, it makes sense to go for 5G even if it does nothing useful now. Perhaps that will change in 2 or 3 years.

The difference in the bill of materials cost between 4G & 5G is US$15-35. (mmWave is more.) With eleven phonemakers fighting for market, I expected prices to plummet. They have in China, where more than 60% of the phones sold are 5G and the rate goes up every month.

For the 11/11 big sale, Realme is advertising 5G at US$150. Several other have 6.5″ 5G phones with multiple cameras and other features for US$200-250. The service costs the same. All but the poorest will be buying 5G.

Apple has now brought iPhone 12 5G premium to $0. All models have mmWave wave 5G, the most expensive kind. It costs less than $2 to airfreight a phone from China to Europe and a grey market is already emerging. When the Chinese prices come West, 5G will quickly dominate. My 2021 and later 5G estimates need to be raised.

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Early data on coverage

Few companies outside of China and Korea have released data. Here’s what I have for now. This will fill in.

CountryCompanyCoverage (M)Coverage %Radio countSubscribers (M)
KoreaAll3570%?80,0003.8
ChinaChina Mobile4040,0004
ChinaChina Telecom60, shared30,0003
ChinaChina Unicom60, shared30,0003
USVerizon
USSprint165%
UKBT/EE
SwitzerlandSwisscom90% yearend 2019