According to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report, the 5G market is growing by around 1 million subscriptions per day. China, North America and the Gulf Cooperation Council markets are leading the way on subscriber numbers, while Europe is off to a slow start.
The world added around 70 million 5G subscribers in the first quarter of 2021, putting it on track to reach 580 million by the end of this year, Ericsson announced. The high growth rate confirms that 5G will be the fastest adopted mobile generation in history.
However, 5G deployed to date is almost 100% 5G NSA (Non Stand Alone), requiring an LTE anchor. That makes it like “4G on steroids,” according to Stephane Teral of Light Counting. Stephane says there are only eight 5G SA networks (T-Mobile US has one) deployed to date. Only those 5G SA networks can realize the true features/functions of 5G because they have a 5G Core network with associated functions (However, they’re implemented differently by each 5G SA service provider, although Rakuten Mobile wants to change that with its RCS platform).
5G is expected to surpass a billion subscriptions two years ahead of the 4G LTE timeline for the same milestone. This is due mainly to China’s early commitment to 5G and quicker availability of affordable 5G devices.
Average data usage to reach 35 GB/month in 2026:
In the medium term, Ericsson forecasts 5G to grow to 3.5 billion subscriptions in 2026, when coverage should reach around 60 percent of the world’s population. The expansion of 5G will drive strong growth in mobile data traffic as well, which is expected to grow nearly five-fold, from 49 EB per month at the end of 2020 to 237 EB per month in 2026. Average smartphone usage is expected to rise over the same period from 10 GB per user per month to 35 GB.
The data forecast excludes fixed-wireless access, although this element is proving core to 5G offerings. According to the report, almost nine in ten operators that have launched 5G also have a fixed wireless access offering (4G and/or 5G), even in markets with high fiber penetration. FWA traffic is forecast to grow by a factor of seven to reach 64 EB in 2026.
5G Communications Service Providers at the forefront of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) adoption:
The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating digitalization and increasing 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 fiber penetration. This is needed to accommodate increasing FWA traffic, which the report forecasts to grow by a factor of seven to reach 64 EB in 2026.
Massive IoT on the rise:
Massive IoT technology (NB-IoT and Cat-M) connections are forecast to increase by almost 80 percent during 2021, reaching almost 330 million connections. In 2026, these technologies are forecast to comprise 46 percent of all cellular IoT connections.
Excerpts from the report:
Despite the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, service providers continue to switch on 5G and more than 160 have launched commercial 5G services.1 5G subscriptions with a 5G-capable device grew by 70 million during the first quarter, to reach around 290 million.
We estimate close to 580 million 5G subscriptions2 by the end of 2021. Currently, North East Asia has the highest 5G subscription penetration, followed by North America, Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Western Europe. In 2026, it is projected that North America will have the highest share of 5G subscriptions of all regions at 84 percent.
5G subscription uptake is expected to be faster than that of 4G following its launch in 2009. 5G subscriptions are estimated to reach 1 billion 2 years earlier than 4G.
Key factors include China’s earlier engagement with 5G compared to 4G, as well as the timely availability of devices from several vendors. By the end of 2026, we forecast 3.5 billion 5G subscriptions globally, accounting for around 40 percent of all mobile subscriptions at that time.
4G will remain the dominant mobile access technology by subscription over the forecast period. During Q1 2021, 4G subscriptions increased by approximately 100 million, exceeding 4.6 billion, equaling 58 percent of all mobile subscriptions. It is projected to peak during the year at 4.8 billion subscriptions before declining to around 3.9 billion subscriptions by the end of 2026 as more subscribers migrate to 5G.
The net addition of mobile subscriptions was quite low during Q1 2021, at 59 million. This is likely due to the pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions. India had the most net additions (+26 million), followed by China (+6 million) and Nigeria (+3 million).
Stephane Teral’s favorite chart: