5G smartphones sales top 4G, but don't expect network deployment to speed up

5G-capable smartphones have surpassed 4G/LTE for the first time globally, according to a Counterpoint report, but experts say the impetus for faster 5G network deployment will come from elsewhere.

For the first time, 5G-capable smartphones outsold 4G/LTE devices in global monthly sales in January 2022, as demand for 5G upgrades reached its highest point yet, according to a report issued by Counterpoint Research.

The upward trend of 5G smartphone sales has been accelerating for some time, and Counterpoint's report said that Western Europe and North America's proportion of 5G sales has reached 76% and 73%, respectively.

According to Gartner director analyst Bill Menezes, recent gains in 5G smartphone sales have been fueled in large part by device upgrade cycles.

"You're starting to get 5G phones sold by default, as people upgrade on a two- or three-year cycle," he said. "From what I've seen on some of the carrier sites, there's some midrange or cheaply priced 5G phones out there, so even users who don't want to pay $1,000 for a 5G phone can get one."

But it's important to remember, Menezes added, that 5G phone sales aren't aligned with actual 5G network deployments — Verizon recently disclosed that only about 25% of its customers were on 5G networks, despite spiking 5G phone sales.

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