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Mobile subscriptions outlook

The strong momentum for 5G continues.

Key findings

  • 5G is on a roll. The second quarter of 2019 saw several markets switch on 5G.
  • In the first five years, 5G subscription uptake is expected to be significantly faster than that of LTE, following its launch back in 2009.
  • 1.9 billion 5G subscriptions for enhanced mobile broadband are expected by the end of 2024.

5G is on a roll. During the second quarter of 2019 several markets switched on 5G following the introduction of new 5G-compatible smartphones. Some communications service providers have set ambitious targets of reaching up to 90 percent population coverage within the first year. As 5G devices increasingly become available and more service providers launch 5G, over 10 million 5G subscriptions1 are projected worldwide by the end of 2019. Looking ahead, in the first five years, 5G subscription uptake is expected to be significantly faster than that of LTE, following its launch back in 2009.

On a global level, 5G network deployments are expected to ramp up during 2020, creating the foundation for massive adoption of 5G subscriptions. Most new 5G subscribers will be users trading up their 4G handsets to 5G-compatible devices following 5G services launching in their market. By the end of the period, it is also likely that many young users in mature markets will get a 5G smartphone as their first device.

Given the momentum in the market, we have increased our forecast for 5G subscriptions, and now expect there to be 1.9 billion 5G subscriptions for enhanced mobile broadband by the end of 2024. This will account for over 20 percent of all mobile subscriptions at that time. The peak of LTE subscriptions is projected for 2022, at around 5.3 billion subscriptions, with the number declining slowly thereafter. However, LTE will remain the dominant mobile access technology by subscription for the foreseeable future, and it is projected to have nearly 5 billion subscriptions at the end of 2024.

Cellular IoT connections and fixed wireless access (FWA) subscriptions supporting new use cases will come in addition to the mobile subscriptions shown in the graph below.

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

By the end of 2024, 95 percent of all subscriptions will be for mobile broadband

We estimate that there will be 8.8 billion mobile subscriptions by the end of 2024. Out of this, around 95 percent will be for mobile broadband. The number of unique mobile subscribers is estimated to reach 6.2 billion by the end of our forecast period.

Over the last couple of years, we have slightly reduced our forecast for mobile subscriptions due to a number of factors beginning to decline in importance. The number of users having multiple SIMs has started to reduce, and prepaid subscriptions have been fewer than anticipated because many markets now require all prepaid SIMs to be registered.

On the other hand, smartphone penetration continues to rise. At the end of 2018, there were 5.1 billion smartphone subscriptions, 99 percent of which were for 3G and 4G. The number of smartphone subscriptions is forecast to reach 7.2 billion in 2024.

Subscriptions for fixed broadband are expected to show limited growth of around 3 percent per year through 2024.2 Subscriptions for mobile PCs, tablets and routers are expected to show moderate growth, reaching 330 million in 2024.

In 2024, there will be 8.3 billion mobile broadband
Smartphone subscriptions by technology (billion)

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

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 for mobile phones, where subscription numbers exceed user numbers. FWA subscriptions are not part of the fixed broadband subscription estimate