Weak Outlook for Mobile Phones in 2021 Before Recovery in 2022

  • Latest forecast predicts mobile phone shipments in 2021 will remain lower than in the pre-pandemic 2019, dented by macroeconomic weakness and component shortages.
  • These obstacles are set to be overcome in 2022, when pent-up demand will see mobile phone sales spike close to their all-time peak.
  • Momentum for 5G continues, with one in three phones sold in 2021 supporting this latest cellular technology.

London, 8 April 2021: The mobile phone market will grow in 2021, but sales will remain well below their pre-pandemic level until 2022, according to a new forecast published by technology analyst firm CCS Insight. The company expects sales of mobile phones to reach 1.67 billion units worldwide in 2021, rising 6% from a weak 2020 but still 8% lower than in 2019. This total will include 1.39 billion smartphones, up 9% from 2020.

“Two main factors will limit growth of the mobile phone market in 2021: global macroeconomic weakness that dampens demand, combined with supply constraints caused by the worldwide shortage of components”, remarks Marina Koytcheva, vice president of forecasting at CCS Insight.

The research firm notes that the ongoing global pandemic continues to have a detrimental impact on the economic recovery of many major markets. “Rapid vaccination offers hope that consumer spending will bounce back later in 2021, but the shortage of major components has thrown a spanner in the works for most phone-makers, preventing them from meeting even the subdued demand expected in 2021”, explains Koytcheva.

“The current shortage of semiconductors is a direct consequence of extraordinary global events that have upended the entire supply chain for electronic devices”, explains Wayne Lam, senior director of research for CCS Insight’s Americas business.

The company highlights that global semiconductor manufacturing has been significantly reshaped over the past decade and is struggling to address changing demand patterns. In the past 12 months, PCs, servers, TVs, tablets and other devices have seen a surge in demand, thanks to the sudden digitization of daily life, as people spend more time at home. “Add to that natural disasters like the severe weather event in Texas in February that disrupted Samsung’s manufacturing plant, and the industry is faced with a perfect storm”, comments Lam.

Although mobile phone-makers are a major customer for semiconductor companies, CCS Insight believes it is inevitable that the shortage will harm the market. “Smaller manufacturers are far more exposed than market leaders Samsung and Apple, leaving sub-scale players in a tough situation”, notes Lam. He adds, “We believe phone-makers are prioritizing premium smartphones that deliver higher margins over cheaper devices, hindering markets that depend on more-affordable products”.

The good news is that CCS Insight expects the component shortage to largely be resolved by early 2022, coinciding with a significantly improved macroeconomic environment in many countries. “Pent-up demand will be unleashed, and we expect suppliers will be able to satisfy this hunger, leading to a significant rise in sales of mobile phones. Our projections are for 1.97 billion phones to be sold in 2022, tantalizingly close the 2 billion mark the industry was aiming at a few years ago”, comments Koytcheva.

Because the recovery from the pandemic will happen at different speeds in different markets around the globe, CCS Insight expects strong global mobile phone sales will continue beyond 2022.

However, Koytcheva cautions, “This strong performance should not be confused with the sales peak we witnessed in the mid-2010s. In the mid-term, the untapped potential for mobile services to gain new subscribers is limited to certain regions like Africa and South-East Asia. In advanced markets, we expect consumers to hold onto their phones for longer than ever, freeing up money to spend on other smart devices such as wearables, smart glasses, smart speakers and other connected home gadgets”.

CCS Insight also has a bright outlook for 5G technology. It expects one in three handsets sold in 2021 to be 5G-enabled, equivalent to over half a billion units. Demand will be fuelled by mobile operators that have launched 5G networks being keen to quickly get more 5G phones into customers’ hands. Even markets making tentative steps toward 5G will benefit from the proliferation of more-affordable 5G-capable devices, as these provide a future-proof solution ready to be used as 5G coverage expands.

By 2025, CCS Insight forecasts that almost three-quarters of mobile phones sold worldwide will support 5G network technology.

More details of CCS Insight’s extensive mobile phone research service can be found at: https://www.ccsinsight.com/research-areas/mobile-phones/

Notes to editors

CCS Insight is a leading provider of research about mobile phones and 5G. This forecast is part of a broader suite of research into these areas, including pricing, consumer surveys, regular reports and updates on the latest announcements, events and news.

About CCS Insight

CCS Insight is a global analyst company focussing on current and future trends in technology. It provides comprehensive services that are tailored to meet the needs of individual clients, helping them make sense of the connected world. Follow @CCSInsight on Twitter or learn more at www.ccsinsight.com.

For further information contact:
Sophie Adams
Harvard PR
Tel: + 44 (0) 738 502 3639
E-mail: ccsinsight@harvard.co.uk

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