5G has come a long way in 2020. Despite facing challenges for expanding coverage and rollout to cities worldwide in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, after the initial lockdowns lifted, deployment resumed.
Now, 5G deployments are on track to reach 204 5G commercial networks globally by the end of 2020. Ericsson’s latest data estimates that by year’s end, more than 1 billion people — or 15% of the world — will live in an area that has 5G coverage rolled out. By 2026, 60% of the world’s population will have access to 5G coverage with 5G subscriptions reaching 3.5 billion, Ericsson forecasts.
While 1 billion people will have access to 5G, it does not mean this many people will have the smartphones needed to connect to a 5G network.
Global subscriptions for this year are estimated to rise to 220 million, as telecoms and network equipment makers continue to build out their networks. This increase is due to the roll out in China, where 5G will reach 11% of its mobile subscription base this year.
This is very close to the projections by market research firm Omdia, which forecasts 236 million global 5G subscriptions by the end of 2020.
“Different regions around the world are temporarily experiencing significantly different rates of 5G subscriber growth, due to the pandemic and economic challenges it has caused,” Kristin Pearson, senior analyst at Omdia recently told 5G Americas. “North American growth continues strong, while the Caribbean and Latin American markets are just getting started.”
In North America, about 4% of the mobile subscriptions will be 5G, but commercialization is moving rapidly and by 2026, Ericsson forecasts 80% of North American mobile subscriptions will be 5G — this will be the highest level of any region in the world. Europe will end the year with only 1% of the subscriptions being 5G, but this is attributed to delayed auctions of the radio spectrum to support 5G deployment, Ericsson said.
“This year has seen society take a big leap towards digitalization,” said Fredrik Jejdling, executive vice president and head of networks at Ericsson, in a statement. “The pandemic has highlighted the impact connectivity has on our lives and has acted as a catalyst for rapid change. 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.”
5G use cases growing
5G is not only going to be used for smartphones and faster downloading of content and services, but also for a range of other use cases including robotics, emergency services, Industry 4.0, the internet of things (IoT), cloud gaming, virtual and augmented reality, enterprises and other time-critical applications.
Additionally, fixed wireless access (FWA) is expected to rise with 5G deployment, offering an alternative to broadband connectivity. Ericsson said the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for in-home high bandwidth connectivity for workers at home. Ericsson said nearly two-thirds of service providers have an FWA offering and this technology is forecast to grow more than threefold to reach over 180 million by the end of 2026, or about a quarter of total mobile network data traffic.