5G mobile subscriptions to exceed 580 million by 2021 end: Ericsson

Ericsson forecasts that 5G mobile subscriptions will exceed 580 million by the end of 2021. This would be driven by an estimated one million new 5G mobile subscriptions each day.

As per the Ericsson Mobility Report June 2021, 5G is expected to become the fastest adopted mobile generation. Additionally, around 3.5 billion 5G subscriptions and 60% population coverage are forecast by the end of 2026.

However, the pace of adoption varies from region to region. Europe is lagging behind and has continued to fall behind China, the United States, Korea, Japan, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) markets in the pace of 5G deployments.

5G is expected to surpass 1 billion subscriptions two years ahead of the 4G LTE timeline for the same milestone. Key factors behind this 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 launched or announced commercially. 

This commercial 5G momentum is expected to continue in the coming years, driven by connectivity as a key component of post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

The largest share of 5G subscriptions by 2026 is likely to take place in North-East Asia with an estimated 1.4 billion 5G subscriptions. 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.

Fredrik Jejdling, Executive Vice President and Head of Networks, Ericsson, says: “This edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report shows that 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. 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 digitalisation playing a critical role.”

The report also highlights several key trends:

  • Smartphones and video driving mobile data traffic
    Data traffic continues to grow year-on-year. One exabyte (EB) comprises 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) gigabytes (GB). Global mobile data traffic – excluding traffic generated by fixed wireless access (FWA) – exceeded 49 EB per month at the end of 2020, and is projected to grow by a factor of close to 5 to reach 237 EB per month in 2026. Smartphones, which currently carry 95% of this traffic, are also consuming more data than ever. Globally, the average usage-per-smartphone now exceeds 10 GB/month and is forecast to reach 35 GB/month by the end of 2026.
  • 5G service providers at the forefront of FWA adoption
    The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating digitalisation and increasing the importance of – and the need for – reliable, high-speed mobile broadband connectivity. According to the report, almost nine out of 10 communications service providers (CSPs) that have launched 5G also have an FWA offering (4G and/or 5G), even in markets with high fibre 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% during 2021, reaching almost 330 million connections. In 2026, these technologies are forecast to comprise 46% of all cellular IoT connections.

Furthermore, the report includes statistics from GCC markets where government-sponsored digital initiatives are pushing technological innovation and the expected 5G uptake. In 2019, GCC markets were said to be among the first in the world to launch commercial 5G services. By 2026, they are forecast to manage a combined 62 million 5G subscriptions, accounting for the second highest 5G market penetration globally.