Ericsson forecasts that 4 out of every 10 mobile subscriptions in 2026 will be 5G. This forecast is made in the latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report, which the company released this week.

According to Ericsson, current 5G uptake in subscriptions and population coverage confirms that the technology is deploying fastest  to any generation of mobile connectivity.

The November 2020 Ericsson Mobility Report estimates that by the end of this year, more than 1billion people – 15% of the world’s population – will live in an area that has 5G coverage, growing to 60% of the world’s population in 2026. 5G subscriptions is forecast to reach 3.5 billion by then, the report says.

The jump in numbers is largely due to rapid uptake of  5G in China, with the country reaching 11% of its mobile subscription base. This is driven by a national strategic focus, intense competition between service providers, as well as increasingly affordable 5G smartphone devices from several vendors.

North America is expected to end 2020 with about 4% of its mobile subscriptions being 5G. Commercialization is now moving at a rapid pace and Ericsson forecasts that 80% of North American mobile subscriptions will be 5G by 2026, the highest level of any region in the world.

Fredrik Jejdling, executive VP and head of Networks at Ericsson, says: “This year has seen society take a big leap towards digitalization. The pandemic has highlighted the impact connectivity has on our lives and has acted as a catalyst for rapid change, which is also clearly visible in this latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report.

He adds that 5G is entering the next phase, when new devices and applications make the most out of the benefits it provides, while service providers continue to build out 5G. “Mobile networks are a critical infrastructure for many aspects of everyday life and 5G will be key to future economic prosperity,” he says.

African connectivity trends

According to report, in Sub-Saharan Africa, mobile subscriptions will continue to grow over the forecast period as mobile penetration, at 84%, is less than the global average. It estimates that LTE will account for around 15% of subscriptions by the end of 2020. “Over the forecast period mobile broadband subscriptions are predicted to increase, reaching 76% of mobile subscriptions,” it says.

While 5G and LTE subscriptions will continue to grow over the next 6 years, HSPA will remain the dominant technology, with a share of over 40% in 2026, it says.

Driving factors behind the growth of mobile broadband subscriptions include a young growing population with increasing digital skills and more affordable smartphones.

Over the forecast period, discernible volumes of 5G subscriptions are expected from 2022, reaching 5% in 2026.

The report notes that in the Middle East and North Africa region, LTE is expected to account for 30% of mobile subscriptions at the end of 2020. The region is anticipated to evolve over the forecast period, and by 2026, and almost 80% of subscriptions are expected to be for mobile broadband, with LTE as the dominant technology with more than 50% of the subscriptions.

Commercial 5G deployments with leading service providers took place in 2019 and 2020, and 5G subscriptions will reach close to 1.4 million by the end of 2020, with most in the Gulf countries. Significant 5G volumes are expected in 2021 and the region is likely to reach around 130 million 5G subscriptions by 2026, representing around 15% of total mobile subscriptions.

More than numbers

The report also highlights why 5G success will not be limited to coverage or subscription numbers alone. Its value will also be determined by new use cases and applications, the first of which have already started to emerge, the report says.

Critical IoT, intended for time-critical applications that demand data delivery within a specified time duration, will be introduced in 5G networks.

This will enable a wide range of time-critical services for consumers, enterprises and public institutions across various sectors, with 5G public and dedicated networks.

Cloud gaming is another emerging application category. The combined capabilities provided by 5G networks and edge compute technologies will enable game streaming services on smartphones to compete with a quality of experience on par with PC or console counterparts, opening up for innovative, immersive games based on mobility.

The report says in terms of mobile data usage in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region has a very high growth rate, but from a relatively small base, with total mobile data traffic increasing from 0.87EB per month to 5.6EB in 2026. Average traffic per smartphone is expected to reach 8.9GB per month over the forecast period.

The report reviews three alternative paths to success for service providers, and notes that in Africa, the offering-led approach is the most common strategy, with service providers frequently offering a wide range of services linked to mobile subscriptions such as gaming, mobile banking and insurance.

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