5G ‘set to be majority of mobile connections’ by 2027

Ericsson Mobility Report 2021.jpg

There will be 4.4 billion 5G subscriptions by the end of 2027 – about half of all mobile subscriptions in the world.

This week’s Ericsson Mobility Report says that 5G will become the fastest deployed mobile generation to date and it says there will be close to 660 million 5G subscriptions by the end of 2021.

“The increase is due to stronger than expected demand in China and North America, driven in part by decreasing prices of 5G devices,” says the report (PDF here).

And the industry is now adding new 5G subscriptions twice as fast as 4G subscriptions. “There was also a net addition of 98 million 5G subscriptions globally in Q3 2021, compared to 48 million new 4G subscriptions,” the report notes.

People are using their phones more than expected: 11.4GB a month of data, when five years ago Ericsson was expecting we’d be consuming 8.5GB/month by now.

Total mobile traffic will be 65 exabytes a month (65EB/month) by the end of this year, compared with a 2015 forecast for the end of 2021 of just 51EB/month.

“At the end of 2021, it is estimated that 5G networks will cover more than two billion people,” says the report.

But in one of the report’s tables, Ericsson indicates that some previous forecasts have tended to be optimistic. This is the tenth anniversary of the report, and the company notes that in 2011 it suggested there would be 8.4 billion mobile subscriptions by 2016. This was an overestimate by a billion: the actual number turned out to be 7.4 billion.

Similarly, in 2016 Ericsson said there would be 9.1 billion mobile subscriptions this year. Again, this was out by a billion: the actual figure for 2021 is 8.1 billion.

Forecasts for tablet subscriptions, though much smaller in number, have been ever more inaccurate.

But overall, smartphones – as opposed to all mobile subscriptions – and 4G connections moved faster than expected. Ericsson expected in 2011 there would be 510 million 4G connections in 2016; in fact there were 2.0 billion. Back in 2015 it forecast that we would now have 4.1 billion 4G subscriptions; in fact there are 4.7 billion.

And 5G has taken off faster than Ericsson expected in 2016. Then it thought the world would have 150 million 5G connections by this year; in fact there are 660 million, more than four times the expected number.

The current estimate is that there will be almost 8.9 billion mobile connections of all types by 2027, with 5G dominating and 4G in steep decline. Meanwhile the older 2G and 3G technologies will be plateauing.