Ericsson ups 5G uptake forecast as China powers forth

COVID-19 disruption has nudged forecasts for North America and Europe down, but a surge in China is leading global growth, and other markets will catch up.
16 June 2020

5G hasn’t been knocked too far off track, Ericsson reports. Source: AFP

  • The latest Ericsson Mobility Report states global 5G subscriptions will exceed earlier predictions
  • This will be driven by a surge in China, while Europe and North America have suffered small setbacks owed to COVID-19

The global number of 5G subscriptions is expected to hit 190 million by the end of 2020, according to Ericsson, far surpassing previous estimates of 100 million as China soars ahead. 

The estimates come as part of the Swedish telco firm’s Ericsson Mobility Report, which predicts that – despite small downwards adjustments for other markets – 5G adoption will overcome the disruption caused by the pandemic to hit 2.8 billion subscription by the end of 2025, accounting for 30% of all mobile services. 

China’s growth – driven by earlier engagement with 5G compared to 4G (LTE), and the earlier availability of 5G-ready devices from vendors like Huawei – offsets slight declines in markets such as North America and Europe, caused by delays to spectrum auctions, for example. 

Source: Ericsson Mobility Report

While 5G readiness in North America and Europe may have taken a small hit from the pandemic, Ericsson expects these markets to regain momentum and hit renewed forecasts for 2025, which have inflated slightly since November: “Despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, service providers continued to switch on 5G, and more than 75 of them have now announced commercial 5G service launches,” Ericsson said.

Up until 2025, 4G (LTE) will remain the dominant mobile access technology by subscription, peaking at 5.1 billion in 2022 before dropping as more subscribers migrate to 5G. By 2025, 5G networks will carry nearly half of the world’s mobile data traffic, the firm predicts. 

At the end of the forecast period, North America could have the highest percentage of 5G subscriptions globally (74%), as LTE falls to just 26% from 92% today. Estimates for Northeast Asia, which includes China, as well as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, sit at 60% by 2025, and 60% for Western Europe. 

Source: Ericsson Mobility Report

Following “extraordinary” growth of 56% from 2019 and 2020, Ericsson expects mobile traffic to continue rising at a steadier, yet still speedy rate of 31% annually between 2019 and 2025. 

Most of this growth will come from video traffic, which will account for nearly three-quarters of mobile data consumption, with video embedded into news, ads, social media; the continuing popularity of streaming services; and the evolution of screen resolution on mobile. 

As 5G provides the power for better user experiences, immersive video formats such as 360-degree video, AR and VR could all contribute a hike in mobile consumption. For example, watching a streamed e-sports event in multi-view would consume about 7GB per hour, while a high-quality AR/VR stream with a bit rate of 25Mbps would consume as much as 12GB per hour.

Ericsson also forecasts 5G driving the rising trend of video game streaming on mobile devices, which could revolutionize the gaming market by reducing the need for specific games consoles: “Presently, some service providers with a 5G mobile broadband offering are partnering with cloud-based gaming providers to offer service-based packages on top of or within their 5G price plans,” read the report.

”Beyond measuring the success of 5G in subscriptions, its impact will ultimately will be judged by the benefits it brings to people and enterprises,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Executive Vice President and Head of Networks, Ericsson. 

”5G was made for innovation and this crisis has highlighted the true value of connectivity and the role it can play in restarting economies.”