Samsung, Vivo eat into Apple's dominant 5G smartphone lead

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Apple's command of the global 5G smartphone market held in the first quarter of 2021, though competitors are closing in fast in what has become an increasingly liquid segment.

Apple shipped an estimated 40.4 million 5G-capable iPhones in the first quarter to take a 29.8% share of the global market, according to research firm Strategy Analytics. That figure is down 23% sequentially, and competing companies are quickly picking up the slack.

Second place Oppo shipped 21.5 million units for a 15.8% marketshare over the same period, up 55% from the last quarter of 2020.

Vivo managed 19.4 million shipments for 14.3% of the market, while Samsung hit 17 million units shipped for a 12.5% slice of the pie. Sales for the two firms grew by 62% and 79%, respectively.

Xiaomi, which shipped 16.6 million 5G handsets during the quarter, came away with 12.2% of the market, up 41% quarter-over-quarter.

"Samsung is performing well with new 5G models, such as Galaxy S21 5G, S21 ultra 5G and S21+ 5G, in South Korea, North America, and parts of Europe," said Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, associate director at Strategy Analytics. "Meanwhile, Apple dipped 23% quarter-over-quarter, following a blowout Q4 2020 where the new 5G iPhone was wildly popular as a gift during the holiday season."

The research firm forecasts global 5G smartphone shipments to reach 624 million units during 2021, a huge rise from 269 million sold across 2020.

Apple's launched its first 5G iPhone series last fall with the release of iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 mini. Compatibility with speedy mmWave 5G technology was restricted to the U.S., though access to slower sub-6GHz bands was apparently enough to spur a sales bump in China.

The new connectivity capability helped fuel a major boost in iPhone sales for the three-month period ending in March. Whether the company is able to carry that momentum through to its usual fall hardware refresh is unclear.

Apple is expected to deliver mmWave 5G to more countries with this year's "iPhone 13" upgrade cycle.

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