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Ericsson: Global 5G subscriptions on track to hit 580m this year

Saf Malik
July 1, 2021

Subscriptions are set to grow by a million a day this year, according to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report

5G subscriptions will exceed 580 million worldwide by the end of 2021, rising from 220 million after an estimated million daily sign-ups this year.

That forecast is featured in the latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report, which also predicts that 5G will grow faster than previous generations of technology did after launch.

Ericsson further forecasts that there will be 3.5 billion 5G subscriptions and 60 per cent population coverage with the technology by the end of 2026 – with more than service providers so far having launched 5G.

The rate of adoption is expected to vary widely by region, with Europe so far off to a slower start than some other regions and having continued to fall behind China, the US, South Korea and Japan in the pace of 5G deployment.

“We thought that the COVID-19 pandemic would negatively impact 5G rollout, but China delivered the technology very quickly,” says Patrik Cerwall, Ericsson head of strategic marketing insights and executive editor of the Mobility Report.

“We’ve had to adjust our forecasts because it became increasingly difficult to anticipate how fast China would roll out 5G.”

In Europe, Ericsson points out that some spectrum auctions in the 700MHz and 3.4- 3.8GHz bands planned during 2020 were delayed by COVID-19, resulting in a short-term impact on deployment and coverage of 5G services.


Yet despite this, 5G is expected to surpass one billion subscriptions worldwide two years ahead of the 4G LTE timeline for the same milestone.

Key factors behind that include China’s earlier commitment to 5G and the earlier availability and increasing affordability of 5G devices.

“It is a smaller step for consumers to go from a 4G smartphone to a 5G smartphone,” Cerwall says.

He believes that while consumers are not yet fully aware of the benefits 5G can bring, its use in various industries will be instrumental in its wider deployment.

As these use cases are adopted and the full range of capabilities of 5G becomes more evident, that will help further push the technology, says Cerwall. “It will certainly make some more aware of what 5G is capable of,” he says.

Cerwall also notes that when 4G was being adopted, consumers were making the jump from feature phones to smartphones, whereas now the consumer base for smartphones has already been established.


Ericsson executive vice president and head of networks Fredrik Jejdling said about the report, meanwhile: “The Ericsson Mobility Report shows that we are in the next phase of 5G, with accelerating rollouts and coverage expansion in pioneer markets such as China, the USA and South Korea.

“Now is the time for advanced use cases to start materialising and deliver on the promise of 5G.

“Businesses and societies are also preparing for a post-pandemic world, with 5G-powered digitalisation playing a critical role.”

More than 300 5G smartphone models have so far been announced or launched commercially worldwide. Shipments of such devices are expected to grow seven per cent year-on-year in 2021 despite the chip shortage currently affecting major smartphone vendors.

Ericsson estimates that approximately 500 million 5G-capable devices could be delivered in 2021, representing 35 to 45 per cent of all devices shipped globally.


In the realm of 4G, meanwhile, Ericsson estimates that in Q1 this year, subscriptions rose by 100 million, exceeding 4.6 billion worldwide and equating to 58 per cent of all mobile subscriptions.

4G subscriptions are expected to peak at 4.8 billion before slowly declining to 3.9 billion by 2026 as 5G is embraced by consumers.

Meanwhile, Ericsson says there are currently around eight billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide now, forecasting a rise to 8.8 billion by 2026.


The number of overall unique mobile subscribers worldwide is projected to grow from 5.9 billion in Q1 this year to 6.5 billion by the end of the forecast period.

Among other numbers in Ericsson’s report, smartphones are currently estimated to account for around three-quarters of mobile subscriptions, numbering six billion at the end of 2020.

This is forecast to reach 7.7 billion in 2026, accounting for 88 per cent of mobile subscriptions.

Subscriptions for fixed broadband are expected to grow four per cent annually through 2026.

Separately, subscriptions for mobiles, PCs and tablets are expected to show moderate growth over the next five years, reaching around 450 million in 2026.

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