China is buying most of the world's 5G phones, report finds

Nearly half of the planet's 5G smartphones were shipped to China last year, a new report finds.

Sareena Dayaram
Sareena Dayaram
Sareena Dayaram Senior Editor
Sareena is a senior editor for CNET covering the mobile beat including device reviews. She is a seasoned multimedia journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience producing stories for television and digital publications across Asia's financial capitals including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. Prior to CNET, Sareena worked at CNN as a news writer and Reuters as a producer.
Expertise Huawei, Oppo, smartphones, smartwatches Credentials
  • More than a decade of journalism experience
Sareena Dayaram
2 min read

About 199 million 5G phones are expected to ship in 2020.

Getty Images

5G networks are beginning to rollout throughout the US, but that's not where most of the world's 5G smartphones are being sold. Instead, China is buying most of the world's next-generation phones. 

According to a new report by Counterpoint Research, China accounted for nearly half of all global 5G smartphone shipment sales last year, with Huawei (including sub brand Honor) dominating sales in the country to capture nearly three-fourths of its 5G market. 

Headquartered in Shenzhen, Huawei has been aggressively targeting its home market after the US slapped the Chinese phone maker with a ban last May that stopped it from doing business with American companies. For Huawei, that meant its new smartphones would lose access to Google's  wildly popular apps, including Gmail,   Google Maps  and crucially the Google Play Store. 

Huawei and Honor were the only two major players to see shipment sales growth in China throughout 2019, while Apple and Xiaomi posted steep declines of more than 20 percent each, the report found.

However, Huawei's higher than usual dependence on China makes it "most vulnerable" among smartphone makers to the fallout of the novel coronavirus, now dubbed COVID-19, which has claimed more than 2,200 lives and brought cities across the country to a standstill.

Approximately 19 million 5G phones were shipped in 2019 -- a number that is expected to explode to around 199 million in 2020, or a more than ten-fold increase, according to Strategy Analytics. The biggest markets for the phones are expected to be the US, China, South Korea, Germany and Japan.

Watch this: 5G kind of sucked this year. Here's how it may get better. (The Daily Charge, 12/10/2019)

Phones at CES 2020: Cheap, shiny, 5G and concepts

See all photos

Originally published Feb. 20.
Update, Feb. 21: Adds more background on 5G.