Will Consumers Balk at 5G Phone Prices?

Consumers could suffer from sticker shock when it comes time to buy a 5G-enabled phone, suggests a new report from IHS Markit, based on a poll conducted in the United States.

Although consumers expect to pay more money for 5G smartphones, the prices may exceed their expectations dramatically, with some devices selling for as much as 29 times more than what the average buyer might anticipate, the research firm noted.

Ninety-one percent of the survey respondents said they would expect to pay more for 5G devices, but three quarters of those individuals expected that amount to be just 10-25 percent more than a 4G handset.

Consumers may be disappointed when theysee that the some phones are far more expensive, IHS warned. For example, Samsung’s S10 5G phone has a retail price of US$1,300 — a 335 percent premium when compared to the $388 price of a Samsung 4G device.

5G Adoption

Early adopters tend to understand that having the latest and greatestproducts requires paying a premium, and some consumers are willing to open theirwallets.

“Samsung has reported some solid initial sales of Galaxy S10 5G,especially in South Korea, suggesting the high price tag of thesedevices will not hold back everyone,” said IHS Markit analyst JoshuaBuilta, author of the recent report.

“Early adopters in particular are likely willing to pay a premium tobe on the cutting edge,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Yet, the extreme pricing could impact mass market adoption.

“As our survey indicates, these price points are far higher than whatconsumers are expecting to pay to glean the benefits of 5Gtechnology,” added Builta. “This suggests there is pressure on thehandset OEMs to get this pricing down in the next six to 12 months,especially since many are counting on the release of 5G devices toboost their struggling smartphone sales.”

A Higher Top

With many consumer electronics, the manufacturers often are forced intoa “race to the bottom” with the goal of making the product as affordable aspossible. This has been notable with TVs. Sets are now at thecheapest level ever when adjusted for inflation, which is not amaintainable business model.

Thus it may be necessary to start the pricing much higher with some new products, as the manufacturers will know that supply is limited and the demand will be great enough.

“The initial price of 5G phones is not indicative of anything exceptmanufacturers starting at the top of the marginal price curve andgetting ready for a quick downhill run,” explained Steve Blum, principal analyst at Tellus Venture Associates.

“As manufacturing ramps up and product bugs are squashed, the pricewill come down,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“The first target market is technophiles — people who will buy itbecause it’s new tech — and that’s probably a six-figure market in theU.S. so they’ll pay the most,” Blum said.

“The second target market is early adopters — people who perceive asignificant benefit from the increased performance 5G phonespresumably will offer,” he noted. “That market is probably in theseven-figure range. By the time 5G phones break out into the generalmarket — eight and nine figures — price points will be in familiar, 4Gterritory.”

Familiar Pattern

Consumers hoping for a deal may be disappointed, but those familiar with product life cycles likely will take the pricey 5G phone debuts in stride.

“It should be noted we believe this initial high pricing is notunusual — we saw the same thing with the first LTE phones,” said IHSMarkit’s Builta.

“Based on this history and upcoming release of designs employingmultimode mode modems, we do expect 5G phone pricing is to declineover the next year,” he added.

There are other factors that could come into play as well.

“In recent years the price of smartphones has been rising, and it hasnothing to do with 5G,” said telecommunications industry analyst Jeff Kagan.

“Today Apple iPhone and Google Android [phones] like Samsung Galaxyare so high they are pricing themselves out of the marketplace withmany users,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The reason for this price increase is related to the fact that smartphone sales have decreased, and the companies need to keep theirstock price high.”

One way to hang onto profitability is to raise prices even if thereisn’t innovation.

“The problem is, these higher prices are tone deaf — users don’t wanthigher prices without innovation and are pushing back,” said Kagan.

Chicken-and-Egg Scenario

What could present another problem is the fact that the 5G networkshave just begun rolling out, so in many cases the devices will rely on existing 4G infrastructures.

“Hardware and service adoption will follow service availability, andthat will be the limiting factor in 5G uptake over the next two tothree years,” said Blum.

“There’s very little 5G service available right now, andcommercial-scale deployments won’t begin until next year,” he added. “What we’re seeing now is pilot projects aimed at preparing for thebuildout that’ll begin in 2020 and continue for the next five to 10years.”

As a result, there’s no need for manufacturers to rush into 5Gproduction or push down phone prices right now.

“They’re wisely positioning themselves for the long haul,” Blum suggested.

That may not work to the advantage of consumers, though.

“By the time 5G is the standard, we will be used tothe new level of smartphone prices — and by that time, if we’re used tothe higher prices, I don’t know if they will ever come down again,”said Kagan.

The Network Connection

As for the other half of the “chicken and egg” dilemma, it comes downto whether the higher prices could slow adoption of thedevices, which then could lead the carriers to slow their 5G rollouts.

Though that is a possibility, it’s a highly unlikely one. It’s more likely the carriers will forge ahead. That actually could be a good thing, because the rollout of 5G will taketime.

“Even in the U.S., which is at the forefront of deployments, 5G islimited to a handful of markets,” Builta noted.

“If you’re outside one of these select markets, in a rural location or on a highway, your phone will be falling back to 4G,” he added. “Consumers could be reluctant to pay the 5G premium if they are not enjoying its benefits most of the time.”

What Consumers Actually Pay

There is also the issue that few consumers actually pay the stickerprice. Unlike TV sets or other consumer electronics, mobile phones often are subsidized by the carriers to keep consumers locked into extended contracts.

“We have to look at what the customer actually pays rather than thefull sticker prices that almost nobody pays in the United States,”noted Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics.

“The 5G phones come in at roughly (US)$40 to $50 per month when they getfinanced,” he told TechNewsWorld.

That still could result in a hefty monthly bill, however.

“Either way, we are getting in the painful area, because it basicallydoubles the monthly cost of having a mobile phone,” Entner said.

“Now we all have to ask ourselves, when does the consumer reach the pointwhere they don’t want and can’t afford a new phone?” he pondered. “Theanswer is twofold: Yes, consumers are buying new phones at prices manypeople think are very expensive — but they are buying them less often.”

Slow March on the Road Ahead

Right now consumer awareness of 5G is far lower than expected.Only a little more than 50 percent of consumers inthe IHS Markit survey were even aware of the 5G rollout, and many said they wereunsure how the technology would benefit them.

“Ultimately, lower device pricing, greater network availability, andincreased consumer awareness of the technology will need to cometogether before we see 5G smartphone growth accelerate,” said Builta.

“5G is still in its infancy, and operators certainly recognize that 5G networks and devices are still very limited,” he added.

It is important to note that 5G is about much more thansmartphones, however, so even if consumer adoption of handsets is slow, thetechnology will have uses with autonomous vehicles, Internetdelivery of video, and other services to numerous devices — and it won’t be limited to the United States.

“Other exciting use cases for the technology include massive Internet of Things andmission-critical applications, which will enable [things like] autonomous driving and remote surgery,” said Builta.

“These use cases will require ubiquitous networks, and will fuelcontinued 5G buildouts in the years to come,” he pointed out. “China will becritical too, as it has some very aggressive 5G targets which coulddrive up 5G handset volumes, which in turn will drive down pricing forthe entire ecosystem.”

Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and Peter.

1 Comment

  • LoL

    With that prices they can wait till 2050, to be honest i am fed up with these phone companies constant upping the prices of their product.

    For instance i refused to pay the heavy price apple gave the iphone7 plus and waiting till the x arrived . And then found a iphone 7+ for a normal price with 256 Gb mem. Else i would have refused to pay the 450 euro the man asked for it.

    People can call me scrooge but i do not care, all toys in a phone does not make them better.

    Its more a want to brag product these days, the new models are in my view not even worth having.

    And i don’t care about bragging or on new tech which does not even work, now why you say!.

    Well simply in my country they supposed to be up front in tech but i actually have massive problems making a normal phone call often. And wifi suffers from the insane amount of competition in urban area’s so much that you hardly get a connection to any stable one. Even at my home i constant am battling the 124 nearby other wifi senders. But because some of them use forbidden senders your legal product can’t beat the massive signals those senders have. So when i move a few metre in my house my phone/laptop/pad whatever is already loosing signal. So guess what i have to make sure i have a cabled computer near and at the moment just for my small house already 4 AccesPoints …. Insanity is all i can say. Then we have the insane slow acceptance from new tech by the 3 giants who own every isp and phone company here. It takes years before they finally adopt new tech and when they do its again partial or so bad its hardly usable ( well unless its a company and pay alot of money ) but for me just a normal person forget about it.

    Then there is the other thing, which scares me even more. Huawei is often making better phones for MUCH less if i compare them to the 1800 euro costing apple flagship, i get the feeling the top of apple are insane. At almost every important point the huawei is better especially regarding connectivity and camera. I am ashamed that i walk with a friend having a 300 euro costing huwie who beats my in that time costing 1500 euro phone in every aspect. In speed, yes even in charging and lifetime., camera much better and more and better options. And worse less stupid decisions at usage as well. When i try to remove a program from phone i have to use a trick to get it done and that annoys me almost to insanity. That such a stupid way to remove a item is made and no way of doing it otherwise. On the android it can be removed in several ways with ease…. but on Apple …. No way.

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