Capitalizing on the advent of 5G wireless connectivity hasn't been particularly simple for investors. Nokia has emerged as a preferred provider of back-end solutions, as has Ericsson. AT&T (T 0.51%), meanwhile, has arguably accelerated the pace of its rollout in the 5G service race, and several other majors are in the mix.
One of the top prospects in this arena, however, is unusually obvious. That's Samsung (OTC: SSNLF). While it would be easy to presume South Korea's highly diversified electronics outfit doesn't do enough mobile handset or infrastructure business to make the growth prospects for those segments a sufficient reason to invest in the company, a bit of digging reveals that those businesses actually account for a huge portion of Samsung's revenue mix.
Perhaps more important, Samsung has clearly done some deep thinking about how consumers can -- and will -- utilize 5G speeds.
Still kind of a big deal
Yes, this company is televisions, ovens, washing machines, laptops, and even vacuuming robots. More than anything else though, Samsung is smartphones. Its mobile arm accounts for more than 40% of revenue, and the mobile communications unit contributed roughly one-fourth of the total operating profit for 2019's second quarter.
It also still sells more smartphones than any other manufacturer.
Being the market leader can be a double-edged sword, of course. It usually means all other players are first and foremost taking aim at you. Huawei is indeed coming on strong, and Apple is always a threat as well with its iPhone.
The coming 5G evolution will only make matters messier. As Igal Elbaz, vice president of AT&T's wireless technology group, commented at a recent Morgan Stanley telecom conference: "This is where you're really going to start seeing the device portfolio starting to take off," adding that 2020 is when "we really believe we're going to see a big refreshment" of smartphones.
All the smartphone manufacturers are planning for that wave of refreshment, but Samsung is arguably better positioned to capitalize on the coming surge in demand. It's already got a lead on its competitors in terms of 5G-capable phones on sale. Its popular Galaxy lineup of mobile devices is now available with 5G tech, as is its Galaxy Fold. The Galaxy A90 is a 5G-capable phone as well.
Samsung's also still the leading name in smartphones, a position it can leverage with carriers
Handsets are only part of the story, of course, and the company is gaining traction in the back-end market too. "Samsung's telecommunications equipment business is expected to perform better in the 5G era [than in previous eras] as it took the initiative in the newly growing 5G market, as seen in its global market share in the first quarter of this year," Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade's Kim Jong-ki told Asia Times this week, adding "Samsung's changed stance on the telecommunication equipment business is also expected to enhance competitiveness."
Samsung is already thinking bigger-picture
While Samsung's tech and IP make it a potent force within the 5G arena, where the company surprisingly stands out from its peers is in its deeper, more-philosophical understanding of not just what 5G will be a year from now, but what telecommunications will look like five years from now.
In its 2019 investor presentation, Samsung made one matter clear -- it doesn't see 5G speeds merely as a means for downloading movies onto smartphones, nor even as the foundation of wireless at-home internet. It's looking ahead to a time when 5G will be vital to connected cars, smart factories, and even improved healthcare. The presentation painted a picture of an open, digital ecosystem that will allow for a "multi device experience."
Samsung knows exactly why it's making such plans, too: Because offering more products providing multiple layers of services leads to what the presentation referred to as "customer lock-in."
5G connections are the glue that will hold it all together, of course, and the company believes next-generation smartphones will serve as the centerpieces of that new digital world. Samsung predicts sales of 5G smartphones will grow from 4.1 million devices this year to 343.1 million by 2023. It expects unit sales of foldable smartphones, which double as tablets, to hit 68.9 million by 2023.
The fact that it highlighted that outlook suggests it plans on capturing its fair share of that growth.
Soup-to-nuts solutions with a much bigger goal
Certainly every 5G technology player -- whether consumer-facing or infrastructure-oriented -- is thinking about the future, and attempting to figure out how to best plug into it. No major technology companies other than Samsung are yet talking about "customer lock-in" with a "multi device experience" though, and few others offer solutions for every part of the wireless market that will allow them to make that lock-in happen
This will be a slow-burn effort, but for investors, it should be worth the wait.