US White-label Smartphone Opportunity Continues to Grow

US carriers sold over 1.5 million white-label devices in Q3 2021, according to Counterpoint Research’s US Monthly Smartphone Channel Share Tracker. This figure includes AT&T, Cricket and T-Mobile (Revvl brand) devices.

Over the years, both carriers have maintained a range of white-label devices to fill gaps in their portfolios by offering affordable device options. Lately, the focus has shifted towards the sub-$300 5G device segment, especially in prepaid channels. In 2021 so far, US carriers have launched white-label 5G devices such as the REVVL 5G, REVVL V+ and Cricket’s Dream 5G/AT&T Radiant Max 5G, bringing down the 5G device cost to sub-$200.

In September 2021, Dish’s Boost Mobile announced the Celero5G-branded smartphone. The device, launched at a price of $279, will include unlimited talk time, text and data (speed throttled after 35GB) for 12 months. Further, the Celero5G comes packed with a 6.52-inch screen, quad camera and 4GB RAM/64GB NAND. It is rumored to be powered by the MediaTek Dimensity 7000 chipset. The device will be available at Boost Mobile-branded retail locations and in national retail.

Dish claims that the device fills a void in the market by providing an affordable 5G option to the customers. This is parallel to AT&T and T-Mobile’s strategy to bring more subscribers to the 5G network.

Opportunity for ODM/EMS firms

Industry continues to ponder whether Chinese OEMs will be able to enter US carrier channels. So far, none of the major Chinese OEMs have been able to range among US carrier channels apart from OnePlus. However, the white-label device opportunity brings OEM, ODM and EMS firms to a level playing field and opens a backdoor channel for entry to the US market.

This has enabled many ODM/EMS firms, such as FIH (Fushan), Wingtech, Tinno and Vinsmart, to work with US carriers. Many Indian OEMs

are also aggressively looking to cater to the rising demand.

Apart from the carrier-branded white-label devices, some local US brands are also moving their production outside China. Recently, India-based EMS firm Dixon Technologies announced a partnership with Orbic to manufacture 5G smartphones in India. Orbic devices are sold in Verizon and TracFone channels in the US. BLU-branded devices sold in national retail channels such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target are also being manufactured in Vietnam. There are many other similar brands that are now looking at manufacturing outside China to circumvent unnecessary logistical hurdles.

While these devices don’t get much attention and have lower marketing spend, the arrangement allows US carriers to fill gaps in their smartphone portfolios. At the same time, it allows ODM/EMS firms, which remain behind the scenes, to avoid the marketing cost, which is typically shared between the carrier and a mainstream OEM brand (like Apple, Samsung, Motorola and OnePlus).