5G Rollout Pace Faster Than Forecast

2020-11-30  |  5 min read 

The global pandemic has been the dominant theme across the globe in 2020, complicating virtually everything and making for a year that has been unlike any other. Many things have been modified, delayed, or canceled altogether as a result.

The rollout of 5G, however, has continued. In fact, the 5G rollout appears to be happening at a faster pace than expected, according to the latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report.

There were about 150 million 5G subscriptions with a 5G-capable device worldwide by the end of the third quarter, according to the report. Ericsson is now forecasting that there will be about 220 active 5G subscriptions by the end of this year, an increase from the forecast of 190 million subscriptions that the company issued in June.

It’s difficult to characterize precisely what impact the global pandemic has had on the 5G rollout. On one hand — as the Ericsson forecast suggests — as more and more employees throughout the world have begun working remotely, the value of connectivity has only increased. On the other hand, some 5G network deployments have almost certainly been modified or delayed, even if only temporarily. This has certainly been the case in Europe. In July, a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the pandemic would delay the rollout of 5G in Europe by 12 to 18 months.

For example, Ericsson estimates that the net addition of mobile subscriptions worldwide increased by just 11 million in the third quarter. By contrast, about 61 million total mobile subscriptions were added in the third quarter of 2019. Ericsson attributed the relatively small increase in overall mobile subscriptions to the pandemic and associated restrictions.

From the 5G standpoint, Ericsson said it increased its forecast for subscriptions in 2020 primarily because of faster-than-expected uptake in China. This increased uptake in China, Ericsson said, is being “driven by a national strategic focus, intense competition between service providers and more affordable 5G smartphones from several vendors.”

Overall, the November edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report offers a positive assessment of the status of the global 5G rollout, particularly in light of the circumstances. The report notes that there have now been more than 150 5G-capable devices introduced and that more than 100 global service providers have now announced commercial 5G launches. The vast majority of those launches are non-standalone (NSA) 5G — which relies on existing 4G LTE networks for control functions and 5G NR for the user plane. But, as the Ericsson report notes, the first 5G standalone networks — which use 5G NR for both signaling and information transfer — have now been deployed in both North America and China.

Ericsson forecasts that by the end of 2026, about 40% of all mobile subscriptions worldwide will be 5G subscription, or about 3.5 billion of the total 8.8 billion expected subscriptions. By contrast, last year Ericsson forecast that about 29% of all mobile subscriptions worldwide would be 5G subscriptions at the end of 2025.

5G coverage is also increasing rapidly. By the end of this year, more than 1 billion people will have access to 5G service, according to the Ericsson Mobility Report. By 2026, 5G networks are expected to cover more than 60% of the world’s population, according to the report.

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