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Mobile subscriptions outlook

Acceleration of the 5G New Radio (NR) standardization schedule will enable large-scale trials and deployments of 5G in 2019. In the June 2017 edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report, we forecast that the number of 5G subscriptions will exceed half a billion by the end of 2022.


Key findings

  • Acceleration of the 5G NR standardization schedule will enable large-scale trials and deployments of 5G in 2019
  • More than half a billion 5G subscriptions by the end of 2022
  • 5 billion LTE subscriptions by the end of 2022
  • In 2022, there will be 9 billion mobile subscriptions, 8.3 billion mobile broadband subscriptions and  6.2 billion unique  mobile subscribers
  • 90 percent of smartphone subscriptions are for 3G and 4G

In March 2017, 3GPP approved acceleration of the 5G NR standardization schedule by introducing an intermediate milestone for an early variant called Non-Standalone 5G NR.1 This will enable early 5G deployments and support the requirements for enhanced mobile broadband services.

Early 5G deployments are anticipated in several markets. In 2022, the number of 5G subscriptions is forecast to reach more than 500 million. A 5G subscription will require a device capable of supporting 5G services and use cases, and that is connected to a 5G-enabled network.

Over time, 5G will enable a wide range of use cases for massive Internet of Things (IoT) and critical communication.

GSM/EDGE-only still constitutes the largest category of mobile subscriptions. However, LTE is anticipated to become the dominant mobile access technology in 2018, and will likely reach 5 billion subscriptions by the end of 2022. By this time, the number of LTE subscriptions will be more than seven times the GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions, while the corresponding number for WCDMA/HSPA subscriptions will be four times. In developing markets, GSM/EDGE will still account for a significant share of subscriptions, and across all regions, most 3G/4G subscriptions will still have access to GSM/EDGE as a fallback. GSM/EDGE will also continue to play an important role in IoT applications.

5G subscriptions will exceed half a billion by the end of 2022
Graph: Mobile subscriptions by technology
Graph: Subscriptions/lines, subscribers

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

It’s anticipated that by the end of 2022 there will be 9 billion mobile subscriptions. Mobile broadband subscriptions will reach 8.3 billion, thereby accounting for more than 90 percent of all mobile subscriptions. The number of unique mobile subscribers is estimated to reach 6.2 billion by the end of 2022.

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, with one reason for this being the price difference between Wi-Fi-only models and those with mobile capabilities. Subscriptions for PCs and tablets with mobile capabilities are expected to have a moderate growth, reaching 320 million in 2022.

90 percent of smartphone subscriptions are 3G and 4G

Greater device affordability is driving increased smartphone adoption. At the end of 2016, there were 3.9 billion smartphone subscriptions. The majority of these subscriptions (90 percent) were for 3G and 4G. By 2022, the number of smartphone subscriptions is forecast to reach 6.8 billion; almost all of these will be for mobile broadband.

Graph: Smartphone subscriptons by technology

1 Non-Standalone 5G NR will utilize the existing LTE radio and Evolved Packet Core network as an anchor for mobility management and coverage, while adding a new 5G radio access carrier to enable certain 5G use cases starting in 2019.

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