5G subscriptions projected to surpass one billion this year

The technology is expected to cover about 75% of the world’s population by 2027, according to a newly-released mobility report by Ericsson.

5G mobile signal Communication Mast (cell tower) Super fast data streaming concept. 3D illustration.
Image: James Thew/Adobe Stock

5G is scaling faster than any previous mobile generation, and mobile subscriptions are expected to surpass one billion this year, according to Ericsson’s latest mobility report. Over 20 service providers launched public 5G standalone networks by the end of 2021 — and that number is expected to double in 2022, the company said.

The report, which examines key trends and events that have shaped the last year, also found that global mobile network data traffic has doubled in the last two years, driven by continuing growth in smartphone usage, mobile broadband and the digitalization of societies and industries.

SEE: 5G mobile networks: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

Another of the report’s notable findings is that the monthly average usage per smartphone is expected to pass 15GB in 2022.

5G blazing a trail

With 5G playing a significant role in modernization while becoming more energy-efficient, Ericsson is forecasting 4.4 billion 5G subscriptions globally by the end of 2027, which will account for 48% of all mobile subscriptions.

The most common enterprise segments targeted for 5G offerings are manufacturing, transport, smart cities and parts.

Currently, North America and Northeast Asia have the highest 5G subscription penetration. In 2027, Ericsson is projecting that North America will have the highest 5G penetration at 90%.

By 2027, 5G is expected to cover about 75% of the world’s population.

Subscriptions for 4G continue to increase, growing by 70 million during this quarter to around 4.9 billion. The technology is expected to peak at five billion this year, then decline to around 3.5 billion by the end of 2027 as subscribers migrate to 5G.

5G moving into the mainstream with help from mid-tier smartphones

Over 650 5G smartphone models have been launched, which accounts for half of all 5G devices by form factor. 5G device shipments more than doubled in 2020 and surpassed 615 million units shipped.

The research also found that global smartphone shipments rose 6% in 2021 compared with 2020. In line with expectations, devices so far introduced this year show improved capabilities, including carrier aggregation extended from two to three new radio carriers for stand-alones, NR dual connectivity for SA and improved uplink capabilities.

“Apart from improved device capabilities, a wider range of 5G smartphone models are now available in the mid-tier price segment,’’ the report said.

The number of networks that offer 5G continues to increase and nearly half of the service providers surveyed now have launched 5G for smartphones. Of these, 35% charge a premium for 5G services, an average price of 11% over 4G.

And it’s not just smartphones that are gaining momentum.

“There is an optimistic outlook for extended reality use cases over the intermediate term based on XR glasses, headsets or heads-up displays as peripherals connected to smartphones or other 5G smart devices,’’ the report said. “As XR glasses will be connected through companion devices for the next few years, the smartphone will likely be part of that innovation for a longer time than generally anticipated.”

Fixed wireless access

The study also found that over 100 million fixed wireless access connections are forecast by the end of 2022. This number is predicted to more than double by 2027, reaching almost 230 million.

Of that 230 million, the number of 5G FWA connections are expected to grow to around 110 million by 2027, representing almost half of the total FWA connections.

During the last six months, the number of service providers offering 5G FWA services has grown by about 30%, and about 20% of service providers monetize FWA with speed-based tariff plans, according to the report.

Service providers’ adoption of FWA offerings has more than doubled in the last three years. There is growth across all regions, with the strongest increase in North America, where 60% of all service providers surveyed now offer 5G FWA.

Some service providers and regulatory bodies are starting to report FWA connections, the Ericsson report noted, but globally there is still limited reporting.

Massive IoT growth in 2021

The number of IoT devices connected via 2G and 3G has been in slow decline since 2019, and NB-IoT and Cat-M technologies are the natural successors, according to the report. The number of devices connected by these massive technologies increased by almost 80% and reached close to 330 million in 2021.

Additionally, about 124 service providers have commercially launched NB-IoT networks and 55 have launched Cat-M. The technologies are complementary, and about 40 service providers have launched both technologies.

By the end of 2027, 40% of cellular IoT connections will be broadband IoT, with 4G connecting the majority. Northeast Asia is the leading region for cellular connections and is forecast to reach 1.5 billion this year.