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GSMA: 5G drives recovery from Covid

Research from global trade body for the mobile industry finds that, driven by China, adoption of next-generation networks will enable global economies to get back on track over the short to mid-term

By 2030, upgrades to 5G will add more than $600bn a year across all industries and sectors in the global economy, about 2.1% of the income growth expected in the coming decade, helping the global economy to overcome the effects of Covid-19 and transition to a post-pandemic economic recovery, says research from the GSMA.

The findings were part of The mobile economy China study, released just as the GSMA, the global trade body for the mobile industry, was marking its return to in-person events with the launch of MWC Shanghai 2021.

The report showed that mobile networks have been instrumental in providing connectivity to sustain social and economic activities throughout the pandemic. For China specifically, mobile data traffic volume jumped by 40% in March 2020 compared with the same period a year earlier, but despite this surge, the report found that networks largely remained resilient, underlining the significant investments in advanced networks by operators in recent years.

In 2019 and 2020 alone, operators in China invested a total of $78bn, equivalent to one-fifth of revenue, on average.

The research also revealed how the pandemic has presented a test platform for a wide range of 5G-enabled technology. Due to the rapid take-up of 5G in China, the GSMA said the region sits among the global leaders in terms of adoption, adding more than 200 million 5G connections in 2020, taking its share of global 5G connections to 87%.

Growth in 5G adoption in the region was supported by what the study called “aggressive” network roll-out and a growing device ecosystem. Chinese operators were found to have deployed about 600,000 new 5G base stations in 2020 and have announced plans to deploy more than that number in 2021.

The study also found that 5G networks now cover more than 90% of the population in Hong Kong and Taiwan, making both markets among the first in the world to reach that milestone.

In terms of usage, 1.8282 billion people in China were found to have subscribed to mobile services in 2020. This is 83% of the region’s population, compared with the global average of 66%.

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Going forward, the GSMA calculates that 47% of connections in China will be based on 5G networks by 2025 and that between 2020 and 2025, 90% of operator capex (capital expenditure) will be invested on 5G – equivalent to $210bn.

Total operator revenues are forecast to be in about $197bn in operator revenues by 2025, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 2.0%. This would represent a reverse of a negative trend during 2014–2019.

Two-thirds of the population of the regional base are forecast to subscribe to mobile internet by 2025. In mainland China, the figure is 66% of 1.2 billion people, while in Taiwan, this is forecast to be 73% of 120.4 million people. For Hong Kong, 6.4 million people (72%) are predicted to connect, and for neighbouring Macao it is 600,000 – 71% of the population.

The GSMA also noted how mobile operators were playing a key role in efforts to achieve key objectives of the UN sustainable development goals, mainly by delivering connectivity and access to life-enhancing services, but also by enabling sustainable development through their business and operational activities.

In China, mobile operators were found to be increasingly taking steps towards, and making investments in, energy-saving technology. This has the potential to reduce emissions and support the global transition towards a zero-carbon economy.

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