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Mobile subscriptions worldwide outlook

First commercial launches of 5G in 2018.


Key findings

  • 2018 sees the first commercial launches of 5G.
  • LTE became the dominant mobile access technology at the end of 2017.
  • By the end of 2023, over 1 billion 5G subscriptions and 5.5 billion LTE subscriptions are forecast.
  • Close to 95 percent of all subscriptions will be for mobile broadband by the end of 2023.
  • The number of smartphone subscriptions is forecast to reach 7.2 billion in 2023.

The standardization of 5G accelerated during 2017, with 3GPP Release 15 for Non-Standalone 5G New Radio (NR)1 finalized at the end of the year. The standard for the Standalone version is expected to be completed in June 2018. This acceleration of the standardization work plan will enable early 5G deployments in several markets.

Operators in the United States will be among the first to launch 5G commercial services. The country’s four major operators have publicly announced that they will begin providing 5G services between late 2018 and mid-2019. Other markets where significant 5G subscription volumes are expected early include South Korea, Japan and China. Globally, major 5G network deployments are expected from 2020. We forecast over 1 billion 5G subscriptions for enhanced mobile broadband by the end of 2023, accounting for 12 percent of all mobile subscriptions.

LTE became the dominant mobile access technology at the end of 2017. The number of LTE subscriptions continues to grow strongly and is forecast to reach 5.5 billion by the end of 2023, when it will account for more than 60 percent of all mobile subscriptions. The number of WCDMA/HSPA subscriptions is expected to decline slightly during 2018. However, the technology is still estimated to account for around one-fifth of all subscriptions in 2023.


A 5G subscription is counted as such when associated with a device that supports NR as specified in 3GPP Release 15, connected to a 5G-enabled network.

Mobile subscriptions by technology (billion)
Subscriptions and subscribers (billion)

Close to 95 percent of all subscriptions will be for mobile broadband by the end of 2023

We forecast that there will be 8.9 billion mobile subscriptions by the end of 2023. Mobile broadband subscriptions will reach 8.3 billion, accounting for close to 95 percent of all mobile subscriptions. The number of unique mobile subscribers is estimated to reach 6.1 billion by the end of the forecast period.

Mobile broadband will complement fixed broadband in some segments and will be the dominant mode of access in others.2 Subscriptions for PCs and tablets with mobile capabilities are expected to show moderate growth, reaching 320 million in 2023.

Smartphone penetration continues to rise, driven by the increasing affordability of devices. At the end of 2017, there were 4.3 billion smartphone subscriptions, 95 percent of which were for 3G and 4G. The number of smartphone subscriptions is forecast to reach 7.2 billion in 2023, and almost all will be for mobile broadband.

Smartphone subscriptions 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

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