Ericsson Predicts 150M 5G Subs in 2021

Early adoption of next-generation network technology in Asia and the US will drive rapid growth in 5G subscriptions, according to the market research team at Ericsson, which expects there will be approximately 150 million 5G cellular subs globally by the end of 2021.

That is just one of many predictions made in the Swedish vendor's latest annual Mobility Report, published early today.

Following the early deployment of pre-standards networks in South Korea and other markets, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) expects commercial 5G networks based on ITU IMT-2020 specifications to be deployed from 2020 onwards. By the end of 2021, the vendor expects 150 million 5G subscriptions, with China, Japan, South Korea and the US experiencing the fastest uptake.

And if 5G does take off that quickly, the uptake will "be even faster than 4G," noted Patrik Cerwall, executive editor of the Mobility Report.

Even so, it would only account for a tiny percentage (about 1.5%) of all mobile subscriptions by that time, if the vendor's total market estimates are accurate (see the graph below).

Source: Ericsson Mobility Report November 2015
Source: Ericsson Mobility Report November 2015

But what does Ericsson mean by "5G subscription"? Handily, Cerwall has a definition:

    A 5G subscription "requires a device capable of supporting LTE Evolved or NX [next-generation radio modulation], connected to a 5G-enabled network, supporting new use cases."

The "new use cases" are mainly related to IoT applications, while "LTE Evolved" and "NX" are terms that Ericsson is using currently to communicate its expectations and view of how networks will evolve -- see the diagram below -- but Cerwall expects standards bodies to agree specific terminology that the whole industry can settle on in the coming years.

Source: Ericsson
Source: Ericsson

The 150 million number comes from Ericsson's own predictive model, which is based on a number of factors including input from all members of the mobile/wireless ecosystem, from chipset vendors to network operators, said Cerwall during a press and analyst briefing in London Tuesday morning. He stressed that the 150 million figure was not an aggregation of 5G subscriber estimates for 2021 from operators.

And while the potential uptake of 5G is interesting, what really matters is the number of total cellular subscriptions -- an estimated 9.1 billion, up from 7.4 billion this year -- and even more importantly the volumes of data traffic running over those connections, which according to Ericsson's estimates is set to grow by more than tenfold between 2015 and 2021 to more than 50 Exabytes per month, of which almost 70% is expected to be video (see chart below).

Source: Ericsson Mobility Report November 2015
Source: Ericsson Mobility Report November 2015

For those of you, like me, who can't recall how an Exabyte relates to other measures of data storage, it is the equivalent of 1 billion Gigabytes: Here's a handy guide (using decimal multiples):

  • 1,000 Kilobytes = 1 Megabyte
  • 1,000 Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte
  • 1,000 Gigabytes = 1 Terabyte
  • 1,000 Terabytes = 1 Petabyte
  • 1,000 Petabytes = 1 Exabyte
  • 1,000 Exabytes = 1 Zettabyte
  • 1,000 Zettabytes = 1 Yottabyte
  • 1,000 Yottabytes = 1 Brontobyte
  • 1,000 Brontobytes = 1 Geopbyte

Or put another way, 1 Exabyte would store the content of 33 million Blu-ray disks of the film Jurassic Park. So that's a lot of data.

What that means is that the companies running and operating the networks supporting that traffic need to think just as much about how they are going to transport, deliver, analyze and bill for all that data: That, really, is the big issue facing network operators in 2021.

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

TV Monitor 11/18/2015 | 12:16:36 PM
NX subscription at zero By Ericsson's definition, the 5G subscription in 2021 would be ZERO, since none of the first adopters are going with NX.

Koreans are demonstrating 28 Ghz Korean(and almost certainly US 28 Ghz) mmWave FBMC based standard in 2018.

Chinese are demonstrating 3.5 Ghz Chinese TD-LTE+ standard in 2018.

Japan is a complicated story, but the first one rolling out 5G, Softbank, is going with Chinese TD-LTE+ and NTT Docomo is under pressure to follw suit.

Thus Europe remains the sole candidate market for NX, but it will not be rolling out in Europe in 2021.

Thus the NX subscription rate by 2021 is ZERO.
steve q 11/17/2015 | 4:22:27 PM
Re: Can't wait for the Brontobyte era I haver a ? today with 4g most customer use it with cellphone are not able to use that speed. And most only get 3g, so what is this 5g so good for if the customer cellphone are not strong enough to even get what is out there today.And with the cost of most data plan will we be paying more to use 5g.  With  the cable company are looking into wifi .
msilbey 11/17/2015 | 11:24:37 AM
Re: What's new? It's going to be very interesting to see how these 5G networks interact with low-power IoT networks being put in place now. I'm imagining dense layers of data surrounding us on many, many frequency bands. I can't even fathom the management challenges.
[email protected] 11/17/2015 | 11:09:23 AM
Re: What's new? The new use cases will be those, not yet available, that are near real-time applications needing the kind of low latency that current networks can't enable and where network resources can be prioritized and allocated automatically to meet the needs of, for example, emergency services or anything deemed 'high priority'.

One example is the real-time management of vehicle transport in a city, including the allocation and prioritization of public transport to meet real-time needs.

In these kinstances, the 5G concept includes progammable network capabilities and real-time analytics as wll as the wireless network capabilities. 


re Harold and Kumar - hopefully none.
Mitch Wagner 11/17/2015 | 10:23:56 AM
What's new? Two really important questions raised by this report: What are some examples of "new use cases?" And how many copies of HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE fit in an exabyte?
[email protected] 11/17/2015 | 10:19:39 AM
Can't wait for the Brontobyte era While the schoolboy in me is desperate to talk about 'Brontobytes of data' (simply because it sounds like it's something frmo Jurassic Park) the key takeaway from all of this, I think, is that this is a good time to be in the packet transport and data storage businesses -- because if Ericsson is in any way right about data growth, the wireless access technology is not really the big pain point for CSPs.... that will arrive in time, along with the supporting devices.

Making sure that the network, from the initial fixed access point (small cell, home gateway, cell tower etc) back, is NOT a bottleneck is the big pain point.
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