Mid-band cloud on horizon but global 5G subs smash billion barrier

Research from comms tech provider shows global operators continue to invest in 5G, with mobile 5G subscriptions set to reach 1.5 billion globally by the end of 2023 and 4.6 billion by 2028

Despite geopolitical challenges and macroeconomic slowdown in some markets, the global adoption of 5G technology continues unabated, with, according to research from Ericsson, subscriptions now having surpassed the one billion mark.

The June 2023 Ericsson mobility report found that 5G subscriptions are rising in every region worldwide and forecast to reach 1.5 billion by the end of 2023. Global mobile network data traffic continues to grow, with the monthly global average usage per smartphone expected to exceed 20 GB by the end of 2023.

The study noted that worldwide, around 240 communications service providers (CSPs) have launched commercial 5G services and about 35 have deployed or launched 5G standalone (SA). The most common 5G services launched by service providers for consumers are enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), fixed wireless access (FWA), gaming, and some augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR)-based services, such as training and education.

Looking regionally, the uptake of 5G subscriptions in North America was seen as stronger than expected in previous forecasts. At the end of 2022, the region had the highest 5G global subscription penetration, at 41%. However, India was the star performer in the report. Following the launch of 5G services in August 2022, the major 5G Indian market is witnessing huge network deployments under its Digital India initiative. 5G subscriptions in India reached about 10 million by the end of 2022, and are estimated to account for about 57% of mobile subscriptions in the country by the end of 2028, making it the fastest-growing 5G region globally.

The report also reveals that 5G continues to drive innovation in mobile service packaging. Among CSPs, it’s increasingly common to offer bundles with various popular entertainment services included, such as television, music streaming or cloud gaming platforms. About 58% of 5G service providers currently do this in various forms.

More than 100 CSPs, comprising about 40% of FWA service providers, currently offer FWA over 5G. Ericsson found that FWA was growing solidly in terms of the number of mobile service providers offering FWA; the proportion of those offering FWA over 5G; proportion of CSPs with speed-based tariff structures; amount of traffic served, as both number of connections and traffic volume per connection increase. By 2028, 5G is estimated to account for almost 80% of all FWA connections.

However, the study observed that while 5G roll-out is still in progress, the deployment of 5G mid-band spectrum, which offers high capacity and good coverage for superior user experiences, remains limited to around 25% of 4G sites globally, with North America ahead and Europe behind.

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Ericsson stated that as global mobile network data traffic continues to grow, with a CAGR of around 25% projected through 2028, smart network modernisation becomes imperative, and that managing this growth while improving the mobile user experience required continued network evolution. Yet, 5G mid-band build-out was proving to be more energy-efficient and cost-effective compared with the expansion of 4G networks

The report also highlighted what it thought would be the challenges posed by the next wave of 5G applications, emphasising the need for new models to rate mobile quality of experience (QoE) and enable the design of networks that meet future service performance needs. Ericsson added that as the use of AR services for mobile devices grows, mobile networks need to be prepared for increased performance requirements, primarily by adding new spectrum and functionality on existing sites.

The report also shows continued revenue growth in leading 5G markets. “The global adoption of 5G technology has surpassed one billion subscriptions, bringing positive revenue growth for communications service providers in leading 5G markets,” said Ericsson executive vice-president and head of networks Fredrik Jejdling.

“We see a strong link between the increase in 5G subscriptions and service revenue,” he added. “Over the past two years, the introduction of 5G services in the top 20 markets has resulted in a 7% revenue boost. This trend shows the growing value of 5G, benefiting users and service providers alike.”

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