Is the smartphone market saturated? Mobile experts answer.

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By Elisabeth Kindig


Smartphones have dominated the device marketplace over the last decade, however, the future will not see this level of concentration. Smartphones are beginning to show signs of saturation with Samsung’s operating profit dropping 60% recently and Apple issuing warnings in Q4 2018.

The smartphone market contracted in 2017 to 1.462 billion units and in 2018 to 1.42 billion units, and is expected to return to minimal yet positive growth percentages at a CAGR of 2.5%. IDC estimated Apple will sell 242 million smartphones by 2022 up from 221 million in 2018. The most up to date number available from IDC is an anticipated decline of 0.8% in worldwide smartphone sales in 2019, published on March 6th.

We saw China decline 10% last year in global shipments of smartphones. Taiwanese company, TSMC, is the sole supplier of iPhone core processor chips and told Nikkei Asian Review that the company is cautious about demand for high-end smart phones.

In episode 5 of Tech Lightning Rounds, you’ll hear how devices will evolve beyond the smartphones we know today. We interview Andrew Parker of the GSMA, an association of over 800 mobile operators worldwide plus an additional 300 companies as members. The GSMA is in the epicenter of global mobile trends, and Parker discusses how devices will go beyond person-to-person communications and describes what we mean by IoT and machine connections. Parker also discusses what we can expect on 5G and privacy.

Qualcomm was in the spotlight last month in many regards. In our second lightning round, we had the opportunity to speak with Ignacio Contreras, Director of 5G Marketing on this domain expertise. Qualcomm helped commercialize the world’s first 5G mobile platform and in the last few months, the 5G networks that were launched in the United States and China were accessed with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 mobile platform and X50 modem. Contreras takes the opportunity to explain how 5G millimeter wave technology will work in urban areas.

We also interview Sian Fulton from the Graphene Flagship, which is a research initiative for the material Graphene. The properties of Graphene were discovered recently and can potentially replace lithium batteries and even silicon. Graphene was isolated and stabilized by two scientists who won the Nobel prize in 2010. Sian discusses why this material is worthy of the Nobel including ground-breaking applications for this material.

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00:01 Speaker 1 (S1): This episode is brought to you by Intertrust Secure Systems. Today’s hackers have changed the security threat paradigm and forced companies to protect both enterprise infrastructure and customer data. Intertrust Secure Systems provides application security to protect software applications, mobile apps, and IoT devices. Our solutions shield applications against reverse engineering, tampering, and unwanted modifications. Go to for a trial.

00:30 Beth Kindig (BK): Welcome to Tech Lightning Rounds. I’m your host, Beth Kindig. This podcast interviews key people with deep expertise on one topic for a 360-degree view. One difference between this podcast and the other podcasts you listen to, is that I hold short interviews called lightning rounds, with the goal of getting you a lot of compelling information very quickly so you can get on with your day.

00:57 BK: Smartphones have had an incredible run since the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Globally, however, we are starting to see signs of smartphone saturation. In these lightning rounds, we go beyond the smartphones of today to look at the devices of the future. You’ll hear from the GSMA, which is an association of over 800 mobile operators worldwide on how to create a more efficient, smarter, mobile future.

01:23 Andrew Parker (AP): By 2025 have about eight billion connections of people, but they’re gonna be 25 billion connections of machines.

01:32 BK: We also speak of Qualcomm, who took the press by storm this month and is a leader in future device hardware.

01:38 Ignacio Contreras (IC): By 2035, over 12 trillion right of goods and services will be somehow powered by 5G and enabled by 5G.

01:47 BK: Plus, you will hear from Graphene Flagship as we discuss the material with high electronic mobility that is being scientifically developed to some day replace lithium-ion batteries and Silicon.

01:58 Siân Fogden (SF): Thinking about wearable devices. Graphene can be embedded into fabrics so that you could change the way that you interact with your surroundings, by having sensors actually either embedded in fabrics, or sensors that you could actually place on your skin that could read your vital signs.

02:18 BK: In my first lightning round, I speak to Andrew Parker of the GSMA, which is a trade body that counts over 800 mobile operators, plus an additional 300 companies as members. Due to this reach, the GSMA is at the epicenter of global mobile trends. Andrew goes beyond person-to-person communications and describes what we mean by IoT and machine connections.

02:42 BK: How will the word ‘mobile’ evolve into the future? As of now, it primarily refers to smartphones. What will mobile, that word mean in 5-10 years from now? What will it include?

02:52 AP: Mobile is broadening out. The platform is expanding and scaling up. And as I said, the mobile platform was originally developed for people to talk to each other and develop the telephone network. Now we’re looking at it as a broadcast medium. We’re looking at it as a way of working, but way beyond that, person-to-person communications are being eclipsed with what machines can do. And we’re looking at creating a much efficient smarter future where the machines communicate, and they’re gonna be the principal communicator on the mobile network. So we’re looking at a future of by 2025 of about 8 billion connections of people, but there’re gonna be 25 billion connections of machines. So the machines will communicate and many more things. Everything that will benefit from a connection will have a connection because 5G enables connections on so may different levels and provides the right type of communication for the right product.

04:01 BK: And give me a baseline. How many connections are there right now, how many billions?

04:05 AP: There’s 5.1 billion connections at the moment of people, and about a billion machines are connected. So, at the moment, machines are in the minority. So it’s about 15%, but that’s changing all the time. In the US, last year, they connected more cars than people, new cars. Because saturation point has been reached in terms of people, but of course, there are many more machines adding different types of value. A modern car will have at least three connections.

04:38 BK: Is mobile hitting saturation, has mobile innovation hit a plateau? We’ve seen Apple drastically reduce the forecast for iPhone sales. Samsung has also been reporting softening mobile sales. So have we hit this plateau?

04:55 AP: I don’t think so, because it depends how you’re defining the market for mobile. So if you see the mobile market as the mobile phone market, making calls, connecting people, comms, yeah, you could argue it’s reached saturation point. The application for mobile in other fields is expanding hugely. We’re showing smart agriculture on the stand today in the Mobile World Congress. We’re showing, for example, a connected beehive. Now, we wouldn’t even have dreamed about that a couple of years ago. And to do a connected beehive, you need a connection which is very low-cost, very low power, and provides capacity.

05:40 AP: So the reason we’re connecting the beehive is about the health of the bees. So the mobile module in the beehive measures temperature, humidity, and location of the beehive, the health of the bees. And if we don’t look after the bees, we’re in real trouble. And farmers want more bees to pollinate their crops and grow more crops. So the farmer benefits, society benefits. But mobile is playing a different role beyond comms.

06:05 BK: I asked Andrew two more questions on current trends, including 5G and privacy, both of which require finding a balance as we build out future device ecosystems.

06:15 BK: We’ve been hearing a lot about 5G for some time. And a lot of people claim that 5G will be available in 2019, that that’s the year of 5G. Some of the people I’ve interviewed in the past, they come from 5G products. Considering that you’re unbiased, what is your opinion of 5G?

06:32 AP: Well, we’re seeing operators accelerating their launches. I believe we’ll see a number of significant operators. So in 2019, you’ll see 10, 12 significant operators, particularly in the US, rolling out their 5G networks, so they’re deploying faster than we imagined. And in 2020, it will become a vast majority of all networks will use 5G. But I think that the big difference here in 5G is the range of applications and the different types of uses for the network from very high data to the connection of billions of devices, ’cause you need a re-designed network to connect 25 billion devices, you can’t connect 25 billion devices on the existing networks. Capacity is key.

07:19 BK: As we move more into the era of intelligent machines, especially at CES this year, there were a lot of AI-powered assistants, it was a really big theme. Google and Amazon had their assistants Alexa and Google Assistant. With AI’s learning speed, surpassing human capacity, how can we protect privacy when the words we speak will be mined?

07:40 AP: I think this is entering an era where data is becoming so key, and so therefore we need to have standards. And we need to have an understanding of what’s happening with our data, and that’s something that the GSMA takes very seriously. We have an authentication product called Mobile Connect, which basically puts the person back in control of their own data, so when their identity is used to purchase something to access it, your identity is looked after, and operators will make sure that their privacy is taken care of.

08:20 BK: Qualcomm was in the spotlight this month on many regards, both with the Apple settlement and with the launch of the first 5G networks in the United States and China. I got to speak with Qualcomm’s Director of 5G marketing, Ignacio Contreras, on his domain expertise, and he discusses what we can expect between now and 2035.

08:40 BK: Qualcomm has recently said at the Snapdragon Tech Summit, that 5G is one of the most significant transitions that we will have. Why is that?

08:48 IC: It’s very significant, because unlike any other transition that we have had in terms of cellular technology, it’s designed from the ground up to connect more than just phones. If you look at the transition from 2G to 3G, that focus more on bringing data to phones, like sending pictures and multimedia messages, to 4G, which brought mobile broadband to phones, so you can enjoy high speeds and manage your apps and content on your phone, 5G has been designed from the ground up, not just to make your phones faster and more responsive, but to connect all kind of things. Going to your car, to your laptop, to your gas meter, to the robot in the industrial factory. So the interface and the whole network has been designed to be very flexible to be, yes, it will be faster, it will bring multilevel speeds to phones and devices, but also that the old two dimensions in terms of the technology has been conceived.

09:49 IC: Another one is to be able to support mission critical services, things like vehicle to vehicle communication, or to reliability to manage indoor processes, and again, robots and machinery in a manufacturing plant for example, as well as support for massive number of things, the massive IoT. So you can connect 1,000 times more devices versus what you can connect today with 4G LTE.

10:15 BK: Let’s fast-forward three years or four years from now. What will I be doing, not only on my mobile device, but what will be happening around me that 5G will enable versus 4G today?

10:26 IC: Yes, excellent question. So we think that it will impact virtually every industry, actually we commissioned some studies that found out that by 2035, over 12 trillion of goods and services will be somehow powered by 5G and enabled by 5G. In the immediate term, some of the industry that you will see compute, for example, we see the rise and more interest on always connected PCs, and those are already seeing the benefits of 4G LTE connectivity. So that clearly covers an area in which you see the benefits as well of bringing 5G very quickly, again, estimation for mobile, but as for computer to be able to access all these cloud services and not just rely on the computer and the power that you have on your own device, but also access all this storage and processing power you also have in the cloud.

11:21 BK: Qualcomm helped commercialize the world’s first 5G mobile platform, and in the last few months, the 5G networks that were launched in the United States and China, were accessed with Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 mobile platform, and X50 modem. I take the opportunity to ask an expert how 5G Millimeter wave technology will work in urban areas.

11:42 BK: What will 5G do to metro areas? What will it look like in 10 years from now, because of 5G?

11:48 IC: It will look with much more faster speed, more capacity overall. Again, particularly in this dense urban areas, which lead to high-level capacity to be able to serve all the connectivity needs of people living there. That’s why one of the key developments with 5G has been the ability to use millimeter wave spectrum, which is very high frequencies on 28GHz or 39GHz, that are very effective in creating more capacity for networks, but very hard to manage in terms of technology because of the penetration characteristics of those high frequencies. They don’t penetrate concrete very well, and they don’t penetrate trees or any obstructions very well. So we have had to work on some key breakthrough technologies to be able to solve those kind of challenges. One of them is called beamforming, in which you are able to focus the energy of the RF transmissions into one very specific direction. So you can point out to the base station directly or point out to one particular reflection with a wall or something that allows you to maintain the connectivity with the 5G base station using millimeter wave.

13:02 BK: In the third lightning round I talk with Siân Fogden from the Graphene Flagship, which is a research initiative for the material graphene. This promising material was discovered fairly recently and can potentially replace lithium batteries and even silicon.

13:16 BK: What will graphene replace, or how will it be used?

13:19 SF: So, there are many, many applications for graphene. You can think about it in terms of, for instance, in terms of the phone of the future. You could imagine how graphene could enable a fully flexible mobile phone by enabling flexible batteries, flexible screens, and flexible circuits. Thinking about wearable devices, graphene can be embedded into fabrics so that you could change the way that you interact with your surroundings by having sensors actually either embedded in fabrics, or sensors that you could actually place on your skin that could read your vital signs, for instance.

14:03 SF: And something that I think is really important for the future of graphene is the high-speed internet connectivity. So at the moment, our whole society wants higher speeds, faster speeds, broader band speeds, if you will. And what graphene can do is really enable that.

14:27 BK: Can you go over the qualities of graphene again and just what is it improving as far as versus lithium or what is it improving versus other materials on the market today?

14:38 SF: So do you want me to talk about batteries specifically or kind of more broadly?

14:45 BK: Both.

14:45 SF: So the batteries specifically, if you look at lithium-ion batteries, what you can do is by adding graphene to both the cathode and the anode… Graphene is this layer of carbon atoms that has this amazingly high surface area. By increasing the surface area you can increase the area of which charge can actually be retained, therefore increasing the amount of charge you can put in a battery. Because graphene is also flexible, you can also create flexible batteries.

15:18 BK: Where do you mine graphene? Where’s graphene coming from?

15:23 SF: Okay, so graphene… That is a very good question, by the way. There are different ways of making graphene. Graphene is a single layer of graphite. So every time you write with a pencil, the reason a pencil writes on a page is ’cause the layers of graphene slide over one another and you leave some on the page as you write. What the scientists have done is isolated a single layer of graphene. The scientists have isolated a single layer of graphite, and that is graphene. So you can mine graphite and actually turn it into graphene.

16:00 BK: Graphene was isolated and stabilized by two scientists who won the Nobel Prize in 2010. Siân discusses why this material is worthy of the Nobel, including ground-breaking applications for this material.

16:12 BK: A couple years ago, I think it was a decade ago, there was a Nobel Prize given out in regards to graphene. Can you go over what that prize was and why it was awarded to the scientists with graphene discovery?

16:25 SF: Yes. In fact, I think it was the 2010 Nobel Prize. I’m trying to remember now. But the discovery actually happened in 2004. And it was just… So graphene was first isolated by two scientists who work now for the Graphene Flagship. And it was that first isolation of graphene that won them the Nobel Prize, because before they showed that graphene could be isolated, graphene being this single layer of graphite, people thought, scientists thought, it would have exciting properties, but they weren’t sure that it would ever really be stable. And what the two scientists who won the Nobel Prize showed, is that you could isolate it and it could be stable. And they did the first ever experiments on single-layer graphene, which is just one atom thick.

17:19 SF: I guess just really that graphene is going to be the future of our material science. It can be used in so many different ways: Embedding it in concrete, using it in concrete to replace steel, for instance. So it’s really high-tech applications, things like deep brain implants or implants on the surface of the brain. You could imagine graphene being able to give people back speech for people who’ve lost speech, like the… I think the biomedical applications of graphene are going to be really important.

18:00 BK: Thank you for listening to Tech Lightning Rounds. Please support the production of this podcast by subscribing on iTunes and leaving a review.

18:06 S1: This episode was brought to you by Intertrust Secure Systems, a comprehensive solution to protect software applications. Visit for more information.