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Mobile subscriptions worldwide by region

Mobile broadband(1) drives subscription growth across all regions.


Key findings

  • Globally, mobile broadband subscriptions now make up 68 percent of all mobile subscriptions.
  • 5G subscriptions will be available in all regions in 2023.
  • In 2023, 48 percent of subscriptions in North America and 34 percent in North East Asia are expected to be for 5G.

Mobile subscriptions by region and technology 2017 (percent)

In India, GSM/EDGE-only remained the dominant technology in 2017, accounting for over 60 percent of total mobile subscriptions. In late 2016 and early 2017, the country experienced strong growth in the number of LTE subscriptions, mainly due to attractive free voice and data traffic offers from one operator. As a result, LTE accounted for 20 percent of all mobile subscriptions at the end of 2017.

The transformation toward more advanced technologies is expected to continue in India and, in 2023, LTE is forecast to represent 78 percent of all mobile subscriptions. 5G subscriptions are expected to become available in 2022.

The Middle East and Africa comprises over 70 countries and is a diverse region. At the end of 2017, close to 20 percent of all mobile subscriptions were for LTE in the Middle East and North Africa, while in Sub-Saharan Africa, LTE only accounted for around 5 percent of subscriptions. The region is anticipated to evolve over the forecast period and, by 2023, 90 percent of subscriptions are expected to be for mobile broadband. Driving factors behind this shift include a young and growing population with increasing digital skills, as well as more affordable smartphones. In the Middle East and North Africa, significant 5G subscription volumes are expected in 2021 and in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2022.

South East Asia and Oceania includes developed markets with some of the most advanced networks in the world, as well as developing economies that have only recently launched LTE. In 2023, LTE is forecast to account for 52 percent of all mobile subscriptions in the region. 5G subscriptions are expected to become available in 2021.

In Central and Eastern Europe, the transition from WCDMA/HSPA to LTE is gathering further momentum. LTE is forecast to become the dominant technology in 2019 and will account for around 83 percent of all mobile subscriptions in 2023. The first 5G subscriptions are expected within the period 2020 to 2021, and will make up close to 5 percent of total subscriptions in 2023.

Mobile subscriptions by region and technology 2023 (percent)

In Latin America, WCDMA/HSPA is currently the dominant radio access technology. The distribution of technology is expected to change dramatically over the forecast period. LTE is expected to become the leading technology in 2018 and, by 2023, is anticipated to represent 75 percent of all subscriptions. The first trials and deployments of 5G are planned over the next few years.

North America, North East Asia and Western Europe have high shares of global mobile broadband subscriptions. Countries within these regions have developed economies, enabling a high adoption rate of information and communications technology.

North America currently has the highest share of LTE subscriptions, at close to 80 percent. The region is also anticipated to lead 5G uptake, with all major operators stating their intentions to deploy 5G early. Fixed wireless services based on 5G are expected to be launched in the second half of 2018, and the first mobile 5G services based on 3GPP standards are expected in late 2018. By the end of 2023, more than 48 percent of all mobile subscriptions in North America are forecast to be for 5G.

In North East Asia, the share of LTE subscriptions is high at 73 percent. The recent nationwide deployment of LTE in China resulted in close to 1 billion LTE subscriptions at the end of 2017. 5G is expected to be deployed early in South Korea, Japan and China. By the end of the forecast period in North East Asia, 5G subscription penetration is projected to exceed 34 percent.

In Western Europe, LTE became the dominant access technology at the end of last year, accounting for close to 50 percent of all subscriptions. Subscriptions for WCDMA/HSPA have declined in the region, but the technology still accounts for more than 40 percent of all mobile subscriptions. The first 5G subscriptions are expected in 2019. By the end of 2023, 5G is forecast to account for 21 percent of all mobile subscriptions in the region.

1 Mobile broadband includes radio access technologies HSPA (3G), LTE (4G), 5G, CDMA2000 EV-DO, TD-SCDMA and Mobile WiMAX