The June 2021 report from Ericsson projects that 5G mobile subscriptions will exceed 580 million by the end of 2021, driven by an estimated one million new 5G mobile subscriptions every day.
The report, which features in the 20th edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report, predicts that 5G will become the fastest adopted mobile generation. About 3.5 billion 5G subscriptions and 60 percent 5G population coverage are forecast by the end of 2026.
However, the pace of adoption varies widely by region. Europe is off to a slower start and has continued to fall far behind China, the United States Korea, Japan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) markets in the pace of 5G deployments.
This commercial 5G momentum is expected to continue in coming years, spurred by the enhanced role of connectivity as a key component of post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
North East Asia is expected to account for the largest share of 5G subscriptions by 2026, with an estimated 1.4 billion 5G subscriptions. While North American and GCC markets are expected to account for the highest 5G subscription penetration, with 5G mobile subscriptions comprising 84 percent and 73 percent of all regional mobile subscriptions respectively.
Data traffic continues to grow year on year. One exabyte (EB) comprises 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) gigabytes (GB). Global mobile data traffic – excluding traffic generated by fixed wireless access (FWA) – exceeded 49 EB per month at the end of 2020 and is projected to grow by a factor of close to 5 to reach 237 EB per month in 2026. Smartphones, which currently carry 95 percent of this traffic, are also consuming more data than ever. Globally, the average usage-per-smartphone now exceeds 10 GB/month and is forecast to reach 35 GB/month by the end of 2026.
The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating digitalization and increasing the importance of – and the need for – reliable, high-speed mobile broadband connectivity. According to the latest report, almost nine out of ten communications service providers (CSPs) that have launched 5G also have a fixed wireless access (FWA) offering (4G and/or 5G), even in markets with high fiber penetration. This is needed to accommodate increasing FWA traffic, which the report forecasts to grow by a factor of seven to reach 64 EB in 2026.
Massive IoT technology (NB-IoT and Cat-M) connections are forecast to increase by almost 80 percent during 2021, reaching almost 330 million connections. In 2026, these technologies are forecast to comprise 46 percent of all cellular IoT connections.