Will 5G reach 2.6 billion users by 2025?

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We’ve talked about it for years, from conceptualisation to testing, to actual implementation. As of 2019, 5G has finally kicked off its launch in the official space. If Ericsson’s latest mobility report is anything to go by, it’s happening faster than we realise. As of now, total 5G subscriptions are expected to reach 13 million by the end of 2019. So far, 50 service providers from all over the world have promised 5G service launches in 2020. 

Early adopters and late bloomers 

Currently, all telecom providers in South Korea have been running commercial 5G services since April. South Korea’s service providers have committed to building 5G networks that will cover 93% of the population by the end of this year. Similarly, 90% of the population in Switzerland is expected to have access to 5G by the end of 2019. 

Ericsson Mobility Report - November 2019 | 5G
Credits: Ericsson Mobility Report – November 2019

In terms of South East Asia and Oceania, 5G networks are already being implemented. Australia already has launched 5G for mobile broadband as well as for fixed wireless services. Countries in South East Asia have already conducted 5G trials, with some markets waiting on the spectrum allocation for the official launch. Even in Sri Lanka, the two main mobile carriers have already conducted 5G trials. Based on what Mobitel and Dialog have to say, we’re likely a little less than a couple of years away from actually seeing 5G. Dialog has already stated that the company will first introduce 5G for fixed broadband connections. 

Along with 5G, the South East Asian and Oceanic region’s smartphone subscriptions are also expected to cross the billion mark by 2025. 

According to Ericsson, the lowest 5G adoption rates by 2025 will be from the Middle East and Africa at 7%, Latin America at 11%, and India at 11%. However, India is expected to grow its LTE numbers from 48% in 2019 to 80% by 2025. What this means is that the country will see most of its 2G and 3G connections replaced by 4G subscriptions by 2025. Meanwhile, 5G services are expected to be available by 2022 in India. 

The biggest 5G markets 

Among the other regions, North East Asia, Western Europe, and North America are forecasted to have the highest adoption rates for 5G by 2025, at 56%, 55%, and 74% respectively. Most of the markets in these regions are developed economies. As such, high adoption rates are to be expected. 

Ericsson Mobility Report - November 2019 | 5G
Credits: Ericsson Mobility Report – November 2019

North America already hosts 4G subscriptions at a whopping 91%, the highest among any of the regions worldwide. Furthermore, commercial 5G has already kicked off in the region. So, it comes as no surprise that Ericsson forecasts 5G subscriptions to go up to almost 320 million by 2025 in North America.  

North East Asia reflects a similar story. The number of LTE (4G) subscriptions are expected to reach 88% by the end of the year. China alone accounts for 1.4 billion. Beginning in 2019, the country issued licenses to four service providers for 5G commercial services. Currently, 5G commercial services are already underway in China as in South Korea. Furthermore, Japan also plans to launch 5G services next year. 

Similarly, Western Europe also predominantly employs 4G, which marks 69% in the region by the year-end. Forecasted figures show that the region will have 55% in 5G subscriptions, 42% in 4G and a mere 2% 3G subscriptions. Thus far, 20 service providers have launched 5G services in the region, with more likely to follow soon. 

How 5G will change mobile traffic trends 

With 5G in the works, Ericsson believes the average mobile data consumption will go from 7.2 GB to 24GB per month. Then again, it’s no secret that video consumption has dominated mobile broadband traffic. Ericsson forecasts that video traffic in mobile networks will continue to grow at 30% annually through to 2025. At a rate of 38 exabytes per month, video accounts for 63% with social media claiming only 10% of the pie. By 2025, videos are to reach 76% at a rate of 160 exabytes per month. 

Ericsson Mobility Report - November 2019 | 5G
Credits: Ericsson Mobility Report – November 2019

The video traffic growth comes from a combination of a growing demand for video streaming services, embedded videos in most online applications, and higher screen resolutions on smart devices. The continuous competition in the streaming industry with the likes of Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime and even Apple TV Plus, means that more mobile users will be pushed towards video content. This is further encouraged by the fact that many smartphone manufacturers look to offer higher screen resolutions and better viewing experiences for users. “bigger and better” screens continue to be a selling point for many smartphone manufacturers. 

Furthermore, the growth of 4G and the introduction of 5G means average streaming quality will surge for users around the world. Currently, 480p remains the most common video streaming quality over mobile networks. This will likely move closer towards 720p and 1080p by 2025. 

Unlocking opportunities on a global scale 

Of course, 5G is more than just about streaming. 5G will also see the growth of immersive media formats like AR and VR. This is because 5G will offer the necessary resources for better user experience. This growth will reflect on a number of industry use cases ranging from AR/VR enabled gaming to conducting surgeries. 

Additionally, the technology opens up better avenues for many other industries as well. 

Take for instance the automotive industry. Companies like Google and Uber have been working on autonomous vehicles for years. But 5G will add a much-needed ingredient to the formula in the form of high-speed communication. The high bit rate offered by 5G would enable more effective communication of data such as 3D mapping data. Additionally, the ability to exchange sensory data would enhance situational awareness, an important consideration in going autonomous. Of course, the opportunities extend to public transport as well. As Qualcomm puts it, “Imagine if buses had flexible routes, depending on traffic patterns, or how requesting rides could change with autonomous vehicles.” 

Drones are another interesting segment that will get more than a facelift from 5G. Think 5G enabled disaster recovery drones. Faster communication and the ability to share real-time data translates to increased effectiveness in disaster recovery operations. Another promising use case would be delivery. Autonomous drones could very well play a bigger role in the delivery game. Amazon is already using drones. Sri Lanka has its own autonomous drones with TENGRI UAV as well as Tilak Dissanyake’s Robotic Air Cargo Network. 5G powered drones would upgrade these use cases with ultra-fast and ultra-reliable networks. 

Of course, these are only some of the potential beneficiaries of 5G hitting the commercial market. But how far are we really away from seeing this potential realised? That depends on how fast the actual technology is moving forward. With the current global politics in play, that might be a tricky question to answer. 

Huawei’s troubles might make a dent 

The US-China trade war has been going for some time. It’s no secret that the Chinese tech giant Huawei is caught right in the middle of it. Things got serious for Huawei when the Trump administration put out an executive order banning the company from dealing with US companies. This not only affected Huawei but an entire global supply chain along with it. 

Hongmeng OS
With US President Donald Trump placing Huawei on an entity list, the smartphone manufacturer lost all access to Google and Android (Image Credits: YouTube)

One of the victims of this trade war is the 5G industry. Huawei plays a leading role in terms of pushing 5G forward on a global scale. In fact, the company claims they are at least 12-18 months ahead of any other 5G manufacturer. But its problems with the US are affecting countries’ 5G efforts from around the globe.  

The UK, for instance, has already begun rolling out 5G with all of its mobile operators kicking off commercial services. But the Huawei vs Trump debacle is hampering rollout in the country. Then there’s Germany. The country recently decided not to ban Huawei from Germany’s 5G implementation, a decision that did not sit well with the US

All is not lost 

Then there are the likes of Malaysia and Russia who continue to move forward with Huawei. Of course, that’s not to suggest everybody except the US is going ahead with Huawei on the 5G front. Australia and New Zealand have currently banned Huawei from taking part in their networks. 

China, on the other hand, is setting itself up big for the coming years. The initial 5G rollout hopes to cover over 50 cities by the end of 2019. With China being the home turf, Huawei has an edge. Amidst all this, the Chinese government has already begun work on 6G.    

But despite Huawei’s troubles, the company states it has already signed over 60 commercial 5G contracts. Meanwhile, Ericsson has secured 76 commercial 5G contracts including the likes of Verizon and Vodafone. Nokia, on the other hand, claims 50 contracts. 

5G is exciting. But 4G is still a big deal 

There’s little doubt that 5G will make our lives better and will unlock a lot of opportunities for us. But that doesn’t mean technologies like 4G will become obsolete. 4G alone could potentially unlock opportunities for a lot of countries. Particularly developing economies. The global 4G segment is set to peak at 5.4 billion subscriptions by 2022. 

5G Smartphone OnePlus
As the caption says, 5G will be bigger than 4G. But it will also be more expensive (Image Credits: XDA Developers)

In Sri Lanka, of the 32.7 million mobile subscribers, only around 10 million are on mobile broadband services (3G and 4G). Thereby, both 3G and 4G combined come at a 30.6% penetration rate. So, while 5G is indeed exciting, there’s clearly room for growth for 3G and 4G. Even neighbouring country India expects to run about 88% of the mobile traffic via 4G by 2025. 

So, where will 5G take us? How soon will the technology reach normality? Only time will tell how things will play out. Particularly with the two global superpowers US and China fighting for a slice of the pie. But one thing’s for sure. The future will arrive sooner than we realise. 

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