Network coverage

5G could cover up to 65 percent of the world’s population in 2025.

Key findings

  • Global 4G population coverage reached about 80 percent at the end of 2019 and is expected to reach over 90 percent in 2025.
  • Although 5G is still expected to be the fastest-deployed mobile communication technology in history, short-term growth may be slowed in some countries due to delays caused by COVID-19.
  • Today, there have already been over 75 commercial 5G launches globally, with population coverage reaching around 5 percent.

Momentum continues in the build-out of 4G (LTE) networks. Global 4G population coverage was around 80 percent at the end of 2019 and is forecast to reach over 90 percent in 2025. 4G networks are also evolving to deliver increased network capacity and faster data speeds. There are currently 797 commercial 4G networks deployed. Of these, 315 have been upgraded to LTE-Advanced, and 37 Gigabit LTE networks have been commercially launched.

Figure 21: Percentage and number of LTE-Advanced networks supporting various categories of devices

Figure 21: Percentage and number of LTE-Advanced networks supporting various categories of devices

5G launch and deployment momentum continues

To date, there have been more than 75 5G commercial launches across the world. Initially, networks have mainly been deployed in larger cities. Global 5G population coverage was around 5 percent at the end of 2019, with the most extensive coverage build-out in the US, China, South Korea and Switzerland. In South Korea, service providers rapidly built 5G networks that covered a large part of the population. Switzerland’s 5G population coverage reached over 90 percent at the end of 2019 and is expected to continue to grow during 2020.

Technology advancements enabling rapid 5G population coverage build-out

5G coverage build-out can be divided into three broad categories:

  1. Radio deployments in new bands in the sub-6GHz range
  2. Deployments in millimeter wave frequency bands
  3. Deployments in existing LTE bands

Looking at the first two categories combined, 5G population coverage is forecast to reach 55 percent in 2025. For the third category, a significant proportion of 4G networks are already prepared for 5G and can be upgraded to support 5G services in existing LTE bands by utilizing spectrum sharing. Given this option, an estimated additional 10 percentage points of 5G population coverage is achievable, creating a potential of up to 65 percent coverage in 2025.

Figure 20: World population coverage by technology

Figure 20: World population coverage by technology[1]

Increased uncertainty in 5G population coverage forecast due to COVID-19

There are drivers indicating an accelerated build-out of 5G networks, particularly looking forward to 2025. However, short-term factors point to a slower pace in certain countries, for example delays in the licensing of 5G spectrum due to COVID-19. The exact impact on 5G population coverage in both the short (2020–2021) and medium terms (2022–2025) remains to be seen. 5G is still expected to be the fastest deployed mobile communication technology in history.

1 The figures refer to coverage of each technology. The ability to utilize the technology is subject to factors such as access to devices and subscriptions