New Ericsson report hikes forecasts for 5G subscribers

Ericsson has again revised upwards its forecasts for 5G subscribers for the coming years, as the latest generation of mobile technology continues to exceed expectations.

In the ten-year anniversary edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report, the Swedish vendor is now predicting there will be more than 660 million 5G subscribers by the end of 2021. By the end of 2027, 5G subscribers are expected to reach 4.4 billion.

Richard Möller, senior market analyst at Ericsson, noted that the forecast has already been revised since June this year. He attributed this to the fact that 5G smartphones have become even less expensive than had been expected, "which drives the conversion from 4G to 5G."

"We have very aggressive launches in Northeast Asia, in the US, also to a degree in Western Europe," he said during a webinar to discuss the report's findings. "There are many regions where it's growing very, very fast."

Möller also indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic and the global shortage of components do not appear to have hampered 5G take-up.

Patrik Cerwall, head of strategic marketing insights and executive editor of the Ericsson Mobility Report, pointed to the rising number of 5G smartphones, with more than 400 5G smartphone models now on the market.

"The shipments are up about 20% in the first half of 2021 compared to the first half of 2020," Cerwall said, with 5G handsets now accounting for around 23% of global volumes. This compares to 8.7% for 4G at the corresponding time in its cycle.

"We have handsets coming earlier. And we have of course a more global spread of 5G [which] drives the uptake of 5G," Cerwall added.

In the third quarter (Q3) of 2021, there was a net addition of 98 million 5G subscriptions globally, compared to 48 million new 4G subscriptions. At the end of 2021, it is estimated that 5G networks will cover more than two billion people.

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According to the report, 5G is on track to become the dominant mobile access technology, based on subscriptions globally, by 2027. At that point, 5G is also expected to account for around 50% of all mobile subscriptions worldwide – covering 75% of the world's population and carrying 62% of the global smartphone traffic.

The monthly global average usage per smartphone will reach 11.4GB by the end of 2021 and is forecast to reach 41GB by the end of 2027. Currently, video traffic is estimated to account for 69% of all mobile data traffic, a share that is forecast to increase to 79% in 2027.

Traffic rising

In terms of mobile data traffic, the report revealed there has been an almost 300-fold increase in mobile data traffic since 2011 – the year in which the Ericsson Mobility Report was first published.

In Q3 2021, mobile network data traffic was up 42% year-on-year, accounting for approximately 78 exabytes, including traffic generated by fixed wireless access (FWA) services. In Q3 alone, mobile data traffic equated to more than all mobile traffic ever generated up until the end of 2016, the report said. Total mobile network data traffic is likely to reach 370 exabytes by the end of 2027.

The report also illustrated how the nature of mobile connections is changing rapidly, contributing to the ongoing rise in mobile data traffic. Broadband IoT has now surpassed 2G/3G as the segment that connects the largest share of IoT applications. It is expected to account for 47% of all cellular IoT connections by the end of 2021, compared to 37% for 2G/3G and 16% for Massive IoT technologies (NB-IoT and Cat-M).

Massive IoT deployments are forecast to account for 51% of all cellular IoT connections by 2027. In the same forecast period, FWA connections are forecast to grow almost threefold – from 88 million by the end of 2021, to around 230 million in 2027. Almost half of these connections (110 million) are expected to be carried over 5G networks.

In addition, FWA traffic currently accounts for 15% of global mobile network data traffic, and it is projected to grow almost six times to reach 82 exabytes in 2027 – equivalent to more than 20% of total mobile network data traffic globally.

— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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