Apple's CEO Acknowledges 5G, but Not Much Else

Apple this week reported a surprising gain across many of its business lines, including services, wireless headphones and smartphones.

Further, company CEO Tim Cook made some mostly vague comments around 5G. "With respect to 5G, I think it's -- we're in the early innings of its deployment on a global basis. We obviously couldn't be prouder of our lineup and are very excited about our pipeline as well and wouldn't trade our position for anybody," Cook said during his company's quarterly conference call with investors, in response to a question about how 5G might affect Apple's business, including its line of iPhones.

"Generally, I think it's important when you think about 5G to look around the world at the different deployment schedules. And some of those look very different perhaps than what you might be seeing here. And so, that's very important," he added, according to a transcript of his remarks from Seeking Alpha, in response to a question about whether 5G iPhones might be more expensive than 4G iPhones.

Cook, of course, does not talk about products that Apple hasn't yet publicly introduced. But the company is widely expected to release iPhones this fall that will support 5G networks. Further, there's a good chance the company is at the very least considering adding 5G connections to other devices, including its laptops, watches, wireless headphones and tablets.

Thus, any commentary Cook may have on the topic of 5G is worth considering, given the major role that Apple in general and Cook specifically played in the development of 3G and 4G LTE technology. Indeed, Apple's iPhone, as well as other smartphones, generate the vast majority of traffic across such networks. Thus, wireless network operators moving from 4G to 5G are carefully watching how powerhouses like Apple and Samsung are handling their 5G strategies.

Finally, Apple in particular appears to be an important player to track in the space considering its increasingly solid financial footing. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, Apple in its most recent quarter reported better-than-expected growth across many of its business areas -- and the company's iPhone operation reversed the decline it reported a year ago.

And now, most analysts are expecting 5G to help supercharge Apple's sales. "The pending 5G cycle is still the biggest catalyst for Apple moving forward in our view," wrote the Wall Street analysts at research firm Jefferies in a note to investors following the release of Apple's earnings. "Our FY'21 iPhone unit estimate is now at 211m versus the consensus for 200m. We expect the 5G cycle to bring significant upgrade activity."

5G jostling
Apple's anticipated entrance into the 5G field would definitely put pressure on the market's current suppliers. According to research firm Strategy Analytics, vendors shipped a total of 19 million 5G smartphones during 2019. China's Huawei leads the market with 37% share, while Korea's Samsung came in a close second with 36% share.

This year that number is expected to grow significantly. For example, Gartner forecasts that sales of 5G mobile phones will total 221 million units in 2020, accounting for fully 12% of all mobile phone sales. The firm said that, in 2021, that number will rise to 489 million units.

Indeed, just today Samsung announced a 5G variant of its Galaxy Tab S6 Android tablet, dubbed the Galaxy Tab S6 5G, for the Korean market, according to Android Central.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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