Ericsson upgrades 5G forecast as research finds mobile networks take added strain from Covid-19

While social distancing and keeping millions at home have put significant demands on infrastructure, with systems that support healthcare, education and businesses of all types under stress, telecoms networks have stood up to the task, says research from leading comms tech provider

The 18th issue of the Ericsson Mobility Report has found that despite the unprecedented working environment and demands caused by the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, which it says has affected everyone around the world directly or indirectly, mobile networks have coped with the increased and uneven demands around the world.

The quantitative study looked at 11,500 consumers, equating to 1,000 across each of 11 countries (except for the US), representing 700 million users in 11 countries. The target group was smartphone users aged between 15 and 69.

As people spent more time online at home, network traffic loads shifted geographically from city centres and office areas to suburban residential areas. The largest share of the traffic increase as lockdowns began was absorbed by the fixed residential network, but many service providers also experienced increased demand on the mobile network.

While the lockdowns and social distancing keeping millions at home has placed significant demands on mobile infrastructure, 83% of respondents said ICT networks had helped them a lot to cope with the lockdown. Across the 11 surveyed markets, 81% of consumers have increased their use of existing online services.

Nine in 10 survey respondents said they had increased their use of internet activities since lockdowns were announced, and one-fifth had started new online activities during the crisis, such as e-learning and video conferencing. The average time spent connected to fixed broadband increased by 2.5 hours per day, while, for those connected to 4G networks, there was an average increase of one hour a day.

Three-fifths of those surveyed were very satisfied with fixed broadband performance, while 75% said mobile broadband networks had performed the same as or better than before the crisis. Despite fixed networks seeing most of the traffic increase, three-fifths of respondents globally considered mobile broadband to be as important as Wi-Fi. During the pandemic, 15% in Italy, 17% in South Korea and 47% in India only or most often connected using a mobile network.

“Social distancing and keeping millions at home has placed significant demands on infrastructure. Today, connectivity is key and, so far, telecoms networks have stood up to the task”
Fredrik Jejdling, Ericsson

Ericsson observed a substantial increase in the volume and duration of mobile voice calls across networks – ranging from 20% to 70% – in the most affected regions during the initial lockdown phase. Mobile data traffic growth was typically moderate, or even negative, ranging from -10% to 20% in different networks with traffic unevenly distributed, with some cells experiencing a large increase despite overall moderate or even decreasing traffic growth throughout the network.

In markets with limited penetration of fixed residential networks, the mobile data demand increase was especially high. In general, the report found that service providers managed to provide sufficient network performance despite changing traffic patterns and increased traffic demand. In some markets, a contributing factor to mobile data traffic growth was that service providers made temporary changes to data plans for a certain period of time.

In addition, the survey showed how the crisis had also built a foundation for the potential role that 5G could play in enriching services and making the management of such a crisis much easier. A total of 44% of survey participants strongly agreed that society could have benefited greatly from 5G. And although 57% said they would save money for financial security, a third still planned to invest in 5G and improved home broadband to better prepare for the next wave of the crisis.

However, Ericsson warned that the success of 5G could not be measured in subscriptions alone. It said the Ericsson Mobility Report showed that the value 5G brings would be determined by the success of new use cases and applications for consumers and businesses. It added that 5G was made for innovation and, as the value of the digital infrastructure has been further evidenced during these recent times, 5G investments can play a significant role in restarting economies.

“Social distancing and keeping millions at home has placed significant demands on infrastructure. Systems supporting healthcare, education and businesses of all types are under stress. Today, connectivity is key and, so far, telecoms networks have stood up to the task,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Ericsson executive vice-president and head of business area networks commenting on the report’s findings.

“This massive disruption has highlighted the value of the network, as recognised clearly by the consumers we surveyed for this edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report. While in some markets 5G subscription growth has slowed as a result of the pandemic, this is outweighed by other markets where it is accelerating, leading us to raise our forecast of global 5G subscriptions at the end of 2020.”

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