Dec 11, 2020 07:20 PM

Charts of the Day: China Powers Up Global 5G Smartphone Market

Monthly sales of 5G phones in China passed the 20 million mark for the first time in October, as major brands aggressively promoted their latest models to tap demand created by Beijing’s campaign to rapidly build up the cutting-edge technology.

In more than a year since countries including China, the U.S. and South Korea first launched commercial 5G service, China has easily become the world’s biggest market for smartphones that use the technology. In this year’s third quarter, 5G models accounted for about 18% of the total 353.6 million smartphones shipped worldwide, according to data tracking firm IDC.

Within the 5G smartphone total, China accounted for a massive 77% of all shipments, followed by the U.S. at a distant second with 7% and South Korea at third with 4%, IDC said.

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Most major smartphone makers have now rolled out models with 5G, including the launch of Apple’s first iPhones with the technology in October. That same month, IDC predicted that China will account for two out of every three 5G smartphones sold this year.

“The 5G market growth in China was mainly driven by the key Chinese vendors,” said IDC analyst Will Wong. “And the earlier recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic has also made China a more favorable location for companies to expand their 5G product portfolio. This, in turn, put China ahead of other countries like the U.S. and Korea in terms of 5G shipments.”

China was traditionally a laggard in rolling out new wireless technologies, preferring to wait until major Western markets had launched systems for several years to give the technology time to mature. But it has abandoned that approach with a vengeance with 5G, as it seeks to become a global leader for a technology that will be critical to data-hungry apps of the future like telemedicine and self-driving cars.

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As China powers up its 5G aspirations, its state-owned wireless carriers have been aggressively installing new base stations and promoting 5G plans, prompting vendors to sell into the rapid buildup. The 20 million sales milestone for October came as 5G phones accounted for more than two-thirds of all smartphones sold in the country that month, according to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

IDC’s Wong pointed out that while 5G smartphones in China took up a solid majority of all units sold in the third quarter, the figure was much lower for the U.S., where such models accounted for just 14% of total sales. South Korea has posted numbers more similar to China’s, with 54% of all third-quarter sales going to 5G models.

Contact reporter Yang Ge ( and editor Joshua Dummer (

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