Mobile subscriptions outlook

A total of 190 million 5G subscriptions are expected by the end of 2020.

Key findings

  • 5G subscriptions are forecast to reach 2.8 billion globally by the end of 2025, accounting for about 30 percent of total mobile subscriptions.
  • The uptake rate of 5G subscriptions is expected to be significantly higher than it was for 4G.
  • The effects of COVID-19 have caused some forecast figures to be reduced, but only in the near term.

The spread of COVID-19 during the first part of 2020 impacted all parts of society globally, including the telecommunications sector. Despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, service providers continued to switch on 5G, and more than 75 of them have now announced commercial 5G service launches.1

We have increased our estimate for the number of 5G subscriptions,2 and now forecast about 190 million by the end of 2020. This is mainly due to a faster uptake in China than previously expected. For other parts of the world, slight downward adjustments have been made due to the effects of the pandemic. For example, several spectrum auctions in Europe have been delayed, with a slower uptake of 5G subscriptions in the near term expected as a result.

We have slightly decreased our 5G subscriptions forecast for 2020 and 2021 in North America, compared to previous estimates. Both Europe and North America are expected to reach the same 5G subscription figures by 2025 as previously forecast.3

Figure 7: Mobile subscriptions by technology (billion)

Figure 7: Mobile subscriptions by technology (billion)

In 2025, 2.8 billion 5G subscriptions are forecast.

Over the forecast period, 5G subscription uptake is expected to be significantly faster than that of LTE, following its launch back in 2009. Key factors are China’s earlier engagement with 5G compared to 4G (LTE), as well as the earlier availability of devices from several vendors. By the end of 2025, we forecast 2.8 billion 5G subscriptions globally, accounting for around 30 percent of all mobile subscriptions at that time.

 LTE will remain the dominant mobile access technology by subscription during the forecast period. It is projected to peak in 2022 at 5.1 billion subscriptions and decline to around 4.4 billion subscriptions by the end of 2025 as more subscribers migrate to 5G.

Figure 8: Comparison of 5G and 4G subscriptions uptake in the first years of deployment (billion)

Figure 8: Comparison of 5G and 4G subscriptions uptake in the first years of deployment (billion)

5G subscription uptake is expected to be significantly faster than for 4G.

In 2025, 88 percent of subscriptions are projected to be for mobile broadband

Today, there are around 8 billion mobile subscriptions. We estimate that this figure will increase to 8.9 billion by the end of 2025, out of which 88 percent will be for mobile broadband. This is a slightly lower share than previously forecast, due to a slower decline in 2G (GSM/EDGE-only) subscriptions mainly in the India region. The number of unique mobile subscribers is projected to reach 6.3 billion by the end of the forecast period.

Smartphone penetration continues to rise. Subscriptions associated with smartphones account for about 70 percent of all mobile phone subscriptions. There were 5.5 billion smartphone subscriptions at the end of 2019. The number of smartphone subscriptions is forecast to reach 7.5 billion in 2025, which accounts for around 85 percent of all mobile subscriptions. Subscriptions for fixed broadband are expected to show limited growth of around 4 percent per year through 2025.4 Subscriptions for mobile PCs and tablets are expected to show moderate growth, reaching around 390 million in 2025.

Figure 9: Subscriptions and subscribers (billion)

Figure 9: Subscriptions and subscribers (billion)

1 Ericsson and GSA (May 2020)

2 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

3 Ericsson Mobility Report (November 2019)

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