In 2023, more than 20 percent of the world’s population will be covered by 5G.
- In 2023, more than 20 percent of the world’s population will be covered by 5G.
- 5G is expected to be deployed first in dense urban areas to support enhanced mobile broadband.
- Another early use case for 5G will be fixed wireless access.
- Today, 3GPP cellular networks cover around 95 percent of the world’s population.
Mobile service providers have been focused on providing sufficient radio signal for the world’s inhabitants, which is defined as population coverage (as opposed to geographical coverage). Today, mobile networks cover around 95 percent of the world’s population and this figure continues to grow.
Mobile service usage has evolved from predominantly voice to messaging and internet access, as well as to a variety of apps on a range of smart devices. This places greater demands on network performance.
LTE deployment continues to gain momentum
In terms of build-out and subscription uptake, LTE is the fastest-deployed mobile communication technology to date. It took just 5 years for LTE to cover 2.5 billion people, compared to 8 years for WCDMA/HSPA.
Several drivers are increasing the speed of LTE deployment. With the expected growth of IoT services, there is a higher demand on geographical coverage, as networks of sensors are installed in places with low population density such as agricultural areas or forestland.
LTE population coverage is currently over 60 percent and is forecast to grow to more than 85 percent in 2023.
5G population coverage estimates
In the past, mobile access technologies have first been deployed in urban areas, and then gradually expanded to areas such as suburbs and major highways.
In a similar fashion, 5G is expected to be deployed first in dense urban areas to support enhanced mobile broadband services. However, 5G is driven by use cases with a wide range of requirements. One of the first commercial uses for 5G is expected to be for FWA. It will primarily be deployed where there are limited fixed broadband alternatives available for households, implying an initial coverage build-out in suburban areas. Other use cases will come from industries such as automotive, manufacturing, utilities and healthcare, and will drive demand for dedicated coverage for a defined area.
5G coverage build-out can be divided into three broad categories, based on the utilized frequency bands and corresponding radio propagation characteristics:
- Deployments in existing LTE bands
This can be achieved through new radio deployments or installing new software. Many networks can be rapidly upgraded to support 5G services in existing LTE frequency bands, for example, in low to mid-bands by using spectrum sharing between LTE and 5G.
- Radio deployments in new bands in the sub-6GHz range
From a coverage perspective, this type of deployment is similar to existing LTE deployments.
- Deployments in millimeter wave frequency bands
The inherently limited coverage in these high bands can be extended by using advanced antenna beamforming.
Given the range of options described above, a higher than usual degree of uncertainty is present in the 5G forecast. 5G coverage is estimated to exceed 20 percent in 2023.