If every journey begins with one step, the 5G journey in the US appears to be starting with a bit of a waddle.
According to BayStreet Research, US wireless network operators sold just 29,000 5G devices by the end of the second quarter. And the firm predicts that the number won't grow much throughout 2019.
"It's very small volume," said Cliff Maldonado, the firm's founder. "The value proposition [for 5G devices] isn't clear."
5G is definitely in its infancy in the US. It only launched a few months ago, and it's only available in a handful of cities on just a few phones. And those phones aren't cheap: The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G for Verizon starts at an eye-watering $1,300, for example.
Thus, it's probably no surprise that the first 5G phones aren't exactly flying off the shelves.
Unlisted in the above chart is the 5G Moto Mod, an accessory that customers can snap on to a handful of existing Motorola smartphones that will allow them to access Verizon's 5G network. Maldonado estimated just 1,000 to 2,000 sales of that gadget.
BayStreet obtains its figures from public and private data sources. Maldonado pointed out that the company's third and fourth quarter figures are estimates. He also noted that the forecasts of 5G phone sales in the coming quarters don't -- and can't -- include as-yet-unannounced devices.
What this means
If the US is in a race with South Korea in 5G, it appears that South Korea has gained a definitive lead. The country now counts more than 1 million 5G customers across the operators that offer 5G in the country. However, South Korea's 5G is widely available in many major cities and is offered by all three of the country's main providers.
And US operators are promising 5G improvements throughout this year and next year. Executives from T-Mobile and Verizon have promised to sell less expensive 5G phones, and T-Mobile and AT&T are both promising to launch nationwide 5G coverage early next year.
Further, many in the industry have argued that the rollout of 5G in the US could ultimately take up to ten years, considering operators will need to deploy 5G across more potentially millions more small cells, using a wide range of spectrum bands and will have to invest in technologies like mobile edge computing. But those technologies could support a wide range of new services like real-time virtual reality and autonomous vehicles.
For those reasons, many in the industry remain upbeat about the overall prospects of 5G in the US. But here in the early days of 5G, most actual customers are staying on the sidelines.