North America drives soaring global 5G market

The latest Ericsson Mobility Report reveals that 5G coverage in the UK is still at only around 40%, but growth in fixed wireless access could play a crucial role in ‘levelling up’

5G is scaling faster than any previous mobile generation, and, according to the latest edition of the Ericsson mobility report, global 5G subscriptions are set to rocket over the course of 2022, passing the billion-subscriber milestone by the end of the year and reaching 4.4 billion by the end of 2027.

Ericsson’s network traffic insights and forecasts also revealed that global mobile network data traffic has doubled in the past two years, driven by increased smartphone and mobile broadband usage, as well as the digitisation of society and industries, the latter increasingly embarking on 5G-based Industry 4.0 projects.

Ericsson said its latest statistics and forecasts highlight the strong demand data connectivity and digital services have, and are expected to have, despite the Covid-19 pandemic and geopolitical uncertainties. Several hundred million people are becoming new mobile broadband subscribers every year.

About a quarter of the world’s population currently has access to 5G coverage, with some 70 million 5G subscriptions added during the first quarter of 2022 alone. The study predicts that by 2027, about three-quarters of the world’s population will be able to access 5G. In global terms, 5G is forecast to account for almost half of all subscriptions by 2027, topping 4.4 billion subscriptions.

Another key trend highlighted in the report was the acceleration of standalone (SA) 5G. It noted that more than 20 service providers globally had launched public 5G SA networks by the end of 2021, and this figure is expected to double this year.

The report also highlighted the increasingly important role that fixed wireless access (FWA) is playing in the delivery of broadband services. Ericsson predicts the number of FWA connections will exceed 100 million in 2022, a figure that is forecast to more than double by 2027, reaching almost 230 million. FWA connections are set to double by 2027, with more than 80% of service providers across the world offering the technology.

Global mobile network traffic was found to have doubled in the past two years, and three-fifths of global mobile network data traffic is expected to occur over 5G networks by 2027, while FWA is predicted to account for 20% of all mobile data network traffic in 2022.

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Looking regionally, the study projected that by 2027, 5G will account for 82% of subscriptions in Western Europe; 80% in the Gulf Cooperation Council region; and 74% in Northeast Asia. It also noted that North America was leading the race in 5G, with nine in 10 mobile subscriptions in the region expected to be 5G by 2027. In India, where 5G deployments have yet to begin, 5G is expected to account for nearly 40% of all subscriptions by 2027.

Yet it is a different picture in the UK, where 5G coverage is still only around the 40% mark, but with mid-band auctions now completed, the report suggests it is on operators to roll out high-quality coverage across the country. The report suggested the UK should follow front-runners such as the US to capitalise on FWA technology and bring connectivity to communities across the country.

Drilling deeper into 5G, the report highlighted that in 2021, broadband and the internet of things (IoT) through 4G or 5G networks overtook 2G and 3G as the technology that connects the largest share of all cellular IoT-connected devices, accounting for 44% of all connections.

Massive IoT technologies, such as NB-IoT and Cat-M, increased by almost 80% during 2021, reaching close to 330 million connections. The number of IoT devices connected by these technologies is expected to overtake 2G and 3G in 2023.

“In several regions, deployment of 5G standalone networks is picking up pace, as communications service providers prepare for innovation to address the business opportunities beyond enhanced mobile broadband,” said Fredrik Jejdling, executive vice-president and head of networks at Ericsson.

“A solid digital network infrastructure underpins enterprises’ digital transformation plans, and their new capabilities can be turned into new customer services,” he said.

“Service providers are looking to expand out of pure connectivity into service enablement platforms. Managing the continued strong traffic growth while reducing energy consumption is also a top priority.”

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