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The World’s Fastest-Growing Smartphone Maker To Put 5G And Its Future In The Hands Of Young Consumers


A disruptor of the global smartphone market, youth-focused technology company realme is on a mission to shake up the industry even further, by making 5G technology more accessible for all, and putting young people at the core of its development. The fast-emerging Chinese company, which reached 50 million unit sales in just nine quarters since its inception in 2018 — an unprecedented industry feat — plans to put 100 million 5G phones in the hands of young consumers around the world by 2024 while positioning its Gen Z customer base front and center of the R&D process.

realme managed to maintain its strong growth momentum under its “Dare to Leap'' motto, even during the global Covid-19 pandemic. According to Counterpoint Research from January 2021, realme was one of the only two major players to prosper throughout the so-called “lost year”, reaching 65% year-on-year growth rate. Such resilient growth won the company the title of fastest-growing smartphone brand in the world for five consecutive quarters. realme is currently ranked 7th among smartphone makers globally and within the top five in 15 of the 61 markets in which it operates.

Positioning itself as a disruptor, realme strives to take the leap in improving the accessibility of cutting-edge technologies, of which none are currently hotter than 5G. In 2020, realme launched 14 sleek 5G devices, accounting for around 40% of all products. By next year, the company plans to increase its 5G offerings to over 20, upping the ratio to 70%. Its 5G phones currently range in price from around USD$150 to USD$600, making it one of the most competitive on the market. With low latency and ultra-fast data sharing making 5G the catalyst for AIoT, realme is also working to establish an ecosystem of AIoT devices, such as smart speakers, TVs, and headphones.

Doubling down on an earlier commitment to be the “popularizer of 5G”, realme partnered with reputed industry organizations GSMA and Counterpoint Research to host the inaugural “Making 5G Global: Accessibility for All” virtual summit today. During the event, GSMA and Counterpoint Research reiterated the crucial role smartphone vendors such as realme, can play in popularizing 5G. realme echoes this by stressing technology is only as strong as its adoption rate, and outlines plans to help drive 5G adoption globally and bring the technology to the masses: realme plans to enable 100 million young users to have 5G smartphones in three years. And as a champion of affordable quality since the release of its first US$120 smartphone in India in 2018, realme is planning to take the lead in launching a US$100 5G mobile phone in the coming years — a move that is set to supercharge adoption, especially across the rapidly emerging economies. realme also announced during the summit that the realme GT 5G performance flagship and the realme GT camera flagship are set for release in June and July, respectively.

But switching from 4G to 5G in phones means equipping handsets with four times the number of antennas and up to 40% more components, which naturally sits in conflict with consumer demands for thinner, lighter devices. In a bid to solve these intrinsic problems, realme said that it is channeling 90% of its R&D resources into 5G technology and plans to invest US$300 million in the field across seven global development centers that are coming to fruition this year. realme’s latest 5G phone weighs just 170g and is 7.8mm thick, shaving off 19g and 1.1mm from the previous generation of 4G phones. To dissipate heat and improve processing power, battery life, and network speed, realme is also employing the latest cooling and fast charging solutions to ensure exceptional performance across all price points.

Motivated, creative, and individualistic, the young people at the center of realme’s strategy ultimately crave input and ownership of the technologies they embrace. With the aim to put the young at the forefront of 5G adoption, realme pledged to empower them by listening closely to their needs and involving them in the process of creating better 5G user experiences. At the 5G summit, realme shared plans to ramp up global pop-up stores and university campus visits, allowing the next generation to carve out exclusive spaces to enjoy high-speed and low-latency cloud gaming, AR, live broadcasting, and other 5G applications. At the same time, consumers will be encouraged to share their experiences, expectations, and ideas via realme’s 5G communication platform and forum, with their feedback and suggestions incorporated into future 5G product development.

The company believes this three-pronged blueprint of affordability, infrastructure, and ownership is what’s needed to ensure 5G adoption is wide and deep enough to achieve the technology’s true global potential.

So where did this crusading company spring from, who is behind it, and how exactly does it plan to achieve such lofty goals? In an interview with Forbes BrandVoice, realme CEO and founder Sky Li shared more about the little-known brand and how it is taking on, and winning ground, from the big boys of tech. 

How and why was realme first established?

Sky: It was on a trip to India when I was working in my previous role with Oppo that I had a sort of epiphany after a very illuminating conversation with Flipkart [India’s biggest e-commerce platform] VP Ajay Veer Yadav. He told me that the majority of young people in the country were carrying cheap, low quality phones that either worked well but looked terrible or looked good but had poor functionality. It seemed consumers always had to make the choice between aesthetics and performance. I instantly saw an opportunity to square that circle in Asia’s emerging markets. I left my role at Oppo, quickly assembled a team, and established realme as an independent company. A week later we released our first model, a stylishly designed smartphone with dual rear cameras powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 chip. Priced at just US$120, it sold 200,000 units in five minutes on Flipkart.

Why does realme want to become a 5G popularizer?

Sky: Growing up as the son of a stonemason in China’s western province of Sichuan, I didn’t always live in the best conditions and I had absolutely nothing handed to me. Learning quickly that only hard work and perseverance would get me out of my village, I beat the odds by getting into one of the best high schools in the country before landing a place at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. It was here that I came into contact with computers and mobile phones for the first time and both my outlook and opportunities changed overnight. realme was founded on the principle that young people should be empowered by technology and have the courage to “dare to leap”. We see 5G as the catalyst to unlock the potential of the next generation, but, as it stands, young people are largely excluded because of 5G’s hefty price tag. This is why we are committed to lowering the barriers to entry by making our products available and affordable to the young, who hold the future in their hands.

“Popularizer” is a bold claim. What’s your thinking behind realme’s 5G plans?

Sky: The world saw an accelerated need to communicate and connect during the pandemic, which, in turn, accelerated the development and adoption of 5G technologies. Our core users are Gen Z, young internet natives who love to communicate with others and share their lives online and in real-time. In particular, they are looking for the smart, seamless, and interconnected lifestyle that 5G enables. But while innovation is the starting point, the technology will only make a significant impact if it is adopted by the masses. That’s why, since we launched our first 5G smartphone, X50 5G, in China in January 2019, realme has been one of the first movers to introduce a wide range of 5G products covering various price points. There is still a long road ahead for 5G adoption, but we will continue to break new ground, allowing more users across the globe than ever to experience the benefits of next-generation technology and connectivity. 

You said realme is a brand for the young generation. What do young people use 5G for and how is realme responding to their needs?

Sky: Gen Z grew up in the era of globalization and digitalization. They are innovative, eager to express themselves, and highly receptive to new things. 5G mobile phones will become the most important tool in their hands, acting as a bridge that will allow them to connect beyond the physical world. As a company for the young, we really understand their needs and strive to empower their interconnected lifestyles with our “smartphone and AIoT” dual strategy. 

Our smartphone and AIoT devices will allow young people to connect physical and digital spaces as interact via 5G-empowered scenarios, such as live broadcasting, cloud gaming, AR, VR, XR, and more. These 5G applications, along with realme's involvement of users in R&D process, will further broaden young people’s horizons and help them explore their own innovative capabilities, forming a virtuous circle where they can contribute to the advancement of the 5G ecosystem themselves. In the process, young people will unleash both their potential and the potential of new technologies.

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