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5G subscriptions expected to exceed half a billion by end of 2021

Driven by China, North America and the Gulf Cooperation Council markets, 5G remains on track to become the fastest adopted mobile generation in history, with subscriptions increasing at a rate of about a million per day, says latest Ericsson Mobility Report

An estimated one million new 5G mobile subscriptions every day will take the total number beyond 580 million by the end of 2021, according to research by communications technology provider Ericsson.

The 20th edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report enhances the expectation that 5G will become the fastest adopted mobile generation. 5G is expected to surpass a billion subscriptions two years ahead of the 4G LTE timeline for the same milestone.

Key factors behind the speed of adoption include China’s earlier commitment to 5G and the earlier availability and increasing affordability of commercial 5G devices. More than 300 5G smartphone models have already been announced or launched commercially. 

This momentum is expected to continue in coming years, spurred by the enhanced role of connectivity as a key component of post-Covid-19 economic recovery. About 3.5 billion 5G subscriptions and 60% 5G population coverage are forecast by the end of 2026.

However, Ericsson pointed out that the pace of adoption would vary widely by region. Europe is off to a slower start than China, the US, Korea, Japan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) markets in the pace of 5G deployments. Northeast Asia is expected to account for the largest share of 5G subscriptions by 2026, with an estimated 1.4 billion 5G subscribers, while North American and GCC markets are expected to account for the highest 5G subscription penetration, with 5G mobile subscriptions comprising 84% and 73% of all regional mobile subscriptions respectively.

The study showed that global data traffic continues to grow year on year. Global mobile data traffic – excluding traffic generated by fixed wireless access (FWA) – exceeded 49EB (exabytes) per month at the end of 2020, and is projected to grow by a factor of close to five to reach 237EB per month in 2026.

Smartphones, currently carrying 95% of this traffic, are also consuming more data than ever. The study calculated that the global average usage-per-smartphone now exceeds 10GB per month and is forecast to reach 35GB per month by the end of 2026.

Ericsson also found that the Covid-19 pandemic had accelerated digitisation and increased the importance of – and the need for – reliable, high-speed mobile broadband connectivity. According to the latest report, almost nine out of ten communications service providers (CSPs) that have launched 5G also have a fixed wireless access (FWA) offering (4G and/or 5G), even in markets with high fibre penetration. This is needed to accommodate increasing FWA traffic, which the report forecast would grow by a factor of seven to reach 64EB in 2026.

Massive IoT was also on the rise. Massive IoT technologies – NB-IoT and Cat-M – are forecast to increase by almost 80% this year, reaching almost 330 million connections. In 2026, these technologies are forecast to comprise 46% of all cellular IoT connections.

“We are in the next phase of 5G, with accelerating roll-outs and coverage expansion in pioneer markets such as China, the US and South Korea,” said Fredrik Jejdling, executive vice-president and head of networks at Ericsson.

“This landmark 20th edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report shows that now is the time for advanced use cases to start materialising and deliver on the promise of 5G. Businesses and societies are also preparing for a post-pandemic world, with 5G-powered digitisation playing a critical role.”

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