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The future of mobile subscriptions

The 5G future is on the horizon: 5G networks based on ITU standards are expected to be available in 2020, with the number of subscriptions reaching around 550 million by the end of 2022

Key findings

  • There will be 550 million 5G subscriptions by the end of 2022
  • 4.6 billion LTE subscriptions by the end of 2022
  • In 2022, there will be 8.9 billion mobile subscriptions, 8 billion mobile broadband subscriptions and 6.1 billion unique mobile subscribers
  • Almost 90 percent of smartphone subscriptions on 3G and 4G networks today

The interest in launching pre-standard 5G networks has increased over the year and deployments before 2020 are anticipated in several markets. Early 5G deployments are driven by the need for enhanced mobile broadband services, and as a complement for fixed internet services – referred to as Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). 

In addition, 5G will enable a wide  range of use cases for the IoT.

GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions is still the largest category of mobile subscriptions. However, LTE is anticipated to become the dominant mobile access technology in 2019, and reach 4.6 billion subscriptions by the end of 2022. In 2022, the number of LTE subscriptions will be more than five times higher than GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions, while the number of WCDMA/HSPA subscriptions will be three times higher. In developing markets, GSM/EDGE will remain a viable option, and the majority of 3G/4G subscriptions in all regions will still have access to GSM/EDGE as a fallback. GSM/EDGE will also continue to play an important role in IoT applications.

Mobile broadband will account for 90 percent of all subscriptions by 2022

By the end of 2022, we anticipate that there will be 8.9 billion mobile subscriptions. Mobile broadband subscriptions will reach 8 billion, thereby accounting for 90 percent of all mobile subscriptions. The number of unique mobile subscribers is estimated to reach 6.1 billion by the end of 2022.

Subscriptions/lines, subscribers

Mobile broadband will complement fixed broadband in some segments, and will be the dominant mode of access in others.2 Many PCs and tablets are currently used without a mobile subscription, one reason being the price difference between Wi-Fi only models and those with mobile capabilities. Despite this, the number of PCs and tablets with mobile capabilities and a subscription will increase 30 percent by 2022. 

Subscriptions by technology

Almost 90 percent of smartphone subscriptions on 3G and 4G networks today

By the end of 2016, there will be 3.9 billion smartphone subscriptions. The majority of these subscriptions – almost 90 percent – will be registered on WCDMA/HSPA and LTE networks. This is despite the fact that GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions is still the largest subscription category. By 2022, the number of smartphone subscriptions is forecast to reach 6.8 billion, with more than 95 percent of the subscriptions registered on WCDMA/HSPA, LTE and 5G networks. 

Mobile smartphone subscription by technology

1 Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) subscription not included

2 The number of fixed broadband users is at least three times the number of fixed broadband connections, due to multiple usage in households, enterprises and public access spots. This is the opposite of the mobile phone situation, where subscription numbers exceed user numbers.

Related content

Mobile subscriptions and penetration Q3 2016

Subscriptions for smartphones now account for 55 percent of all mobile subscriptions.

Future of mobile technology usage by region

In 2022, 25 percent of subscriptions in North America and 10 percent in Asia Pacific will be for 5G.

Future mobile data usage and traffic growth

By the end of 2022, more than 90 percent of mobile data traffic will come from smartphones.

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