The two million figure represented just 1% of total sales for the year, Counterpoint said, adding that the Samsung Note 10 Plus 5G was the bestseller in the country. The OnePlus 7 Pro 5G accounted for 11% while LG's V50 bagged the remaining 15%.
Counterpoint's research director Jeff Fieldhack said sales of 5G smartphones in the US were below expectations for a number of reasons.
"Verizon, the early mover, led with mmWave-only 5G smartphones while AT&T and T-Mobile took a hybrid approach," he pointed out. "While Verizon rolled out mmWave in 31 cities it was not overly aggressive pushing consumers to a limited 5G portfolio.
Fieldhack said AT&T and T-Mobile would have almost full coverage - more than 250 million PoPs - by the middle of the year.
"AT&T will also be launching devices with low-band and mmWave support," he said. "T-Mobile has increased its marketing campaign for its 5G network. Now that the merger with Sprint is finalised, it will be looking to smartphone OEMs to support 600MHz, Sprint’s 2.5GHz, and mmWave.
"T-Mobile has a limited amount of mmWave spectrum but will probably gain more in future spectrum auctions. Verizon will push to soft re-farm its 800 MHz spectrum for 5G use on its network aided by Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) technology, which will allow the operator to use it for both 4G and 5G workloads.
"Finally, in 2020 we will see a large 5G push from channels when 5G iPhones hit the market considering Apple commands almost half of the smartphone user base in the US.”
Research analyst Maurice Klaehne said the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G dominated because it was promoted a great deal late in the year at Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, as the carriers began lighting up their 5G networks.
"Given that the device retails for US$1299.99, carriers experimented with different financing and trade-in incentives to get the monthly device cost down to a sweet spot of about US$35," he said.
"At this monthly price point, consumers were incentivised to purchase a 5G device despite the high total cost. The LG V50 was the only 5G capable phone for LG. Despite being one of the first 5G phones on the market, sales of the model have slowed as promotional offers were weaker.
"For OnePlus, the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G was the top seller for the OEM, as the lower price point of US$840 helped drive sales. This was especially true for consumers who were looking to access Sprint’s 5G network but did not want to pay US$1299.99 for the Samsung S10 5G.”
Fieldhack said 5G penetration was expected to grow to about 25% in 2020, compared to just 1% in the previous year.
He cautioned that the coronavirus outbreak could well have a negative impact on the overall smartphone market, resulting in lower sales in the first half of 2020 due to supply shortages.
"The coronavirus has caused many factories to reduce their production capacity, with some still being shuttered," he said. "Despite this, the US market’s advanced 5G rollout will likely be a priority for OEMs and will be less affected than other regions."