The major wireless carriers in United States have been working tirelessly to deploy a nationwide 5G network, but from a global standpoint, Ericsson projects more than one billion people will have access to the fifth generation of wireless connectivity, according to the company’s November Mobility Report. The company also forecasted that four out of every 10 mobile subscriptions in 2026 will be 5G.
Ericsson’s 5G projection is dependent on a massive, diverse network rollout. The company believes that 1 billion people, 15 percent of the world’s population, will live in an area where 5G has been deployed. Meanwhile, Ericsson also projected that 60 percent of the world’s population will have access to 5G coverage and 3.5 billion people will have a 5G subscription by 2026.
For 2020, Ericsson increased its year-end estimate for global 5G subscriptions to 220 million due to service providers’ continued efforts to build out their networks. The company’s increased projection also stems from the rapid uptake in China, where 5G has reached 11% of its mobile subscription base. The combination of national strategic focus, strong competition between service providers and more affordable 5G smartphones from different vendors has sparked Ericsson’s bold 5G predictions.
“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,” Ericsson Executive Vice President and Head of Networks Fredrik Jejdling said in a statement. “Mobile networks are a critical infrastructure for many aspects of everyday life and 5G will be key to future economic prosperity.”
In North America, 5G mobile subscriptions are expected to reach 4% by the end of 2020, but commercialization’s rapid pace has led Ericsson to forecast that number will be closer to 80% of the North American population by 2026—the largest level of any region in the world. Forecasts for Europe aren’t as large—just 1% due to some countries delaying their radio spectrum auctions, which are necessary for supporting 5G deployment.
“This year has been society taking a big leap towards digitalization,” Jejdling said. “The pandemic has highlighted the impact connectivity has on our lives has acted as catalyst for rapid changes, which is also clearly visible in the latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report.”
The Ericsson November Mobility Report also notes that subscription numbers alone won’t measure 5G’s success. New use cases and applications will also play a part in determining just how ready for primetime 5G actually is. For example, critical Internet of Things (IoT), which is meant for time sensitive applications that demand data delivery as specific times, will be introduced in 5G networks.
If deployment is successful, 5G could enable a wide range of time-critical services for customers, enterprises, and public institutions across different sectors with both public and private networks. Cloud gaming is another application that could benefit from 5G. The combination of 5G networks and edge compute technologies’ capabilities would allow game streaming services on smartphones to compete with a quality of experience similar to a personal computer or gaming console. Gaming with that high quality of steaming capability could open doors for innovative and immersive games that are based on mobility.
Is 5G access for One Billion people possible?
It’s important to remember that the 5G figures in the Ericsson November Mobility report are projections. A lot of the forecasts are based on past buying behaviors and current device purchasing trends, but as 2020 has proven, things can change fast. For example, the report acknowledges that net addition of mobile subscriptions was on the low side during the third quarter of 2020—11 million. Ericsson attributed the drop off to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions. The company adjusted its mobile subscriptions outlook downward because of this as multiple and inactive subscriptions are being removed.
Additionally, while Ericsson predicts 5G subscription uptake to be faster than 4G LTE during its 2009 launch, it noted that LTE will, “remain the dominant mobile access technology by subscription over the forecast period.” While 5G subscriptions were lower during Q3 2020, LTE subscriptions increased by almost 70 million, equaling 57% of all mobile subscriptions.
Other factors to consider about whether or not 5G can hit so many people are will enough subscribers live in areas where 5G networks will be deployed, as well as if enough carrier subscribers are willing to upgrade their phones to something that’s 5G capable. If the answer to both of those questions is yes, than more than a billion people having 5G access seems feasible. If not, 4G LTE will remain the dominant wireless network.
Joe Dyton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.