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Mobile subscriptions outlook

A total of 13 million 5G subscriptions are expected by the end of 2019.

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Key findings

  • 13 million 5G subscriptions are expected by the end of 2019. By 2025, this number is forecast to reach 2.6 billion.
  • LTE will remain the dominant mobile access technology for the forecast period, peaking in 2022 at 5.4 billion subscriptions.
  • 83 percent of all mobile subscriptions are forecast to be smartphone subscriptions by 2025.
In 2025, 2.6 billion 5G subscriptions are forecast.
Mobile subscriptions Q3 2019

During the third quarter of 2019, service providers continued to switch on 5G and more 5G devices became available. Around 50 service providers[1] around the world have announced commercial 5G service launches.

A big uptake of 5G subscriptions[2] has taken place in South Korea, where all service providers launched commercial 5G services at the beginning of April. The initial focus for all three has been enhanced mobile broadband targeted at consumers, with immersive experiences based on virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and high-quality streaming. On a global level, 5G network deployments are expected to ramp up during 2020, building the foundation for massive adoption of 5G subscriptions. Over the next six years, 5G subscription uptake is expected to be significantly faster than that of LTE, following its launch back in 2009. Key factors are the earlier engagement of China in 5G compared to LTE, for which the country was not one of the early markets to launch, as well as the earlier availability of devices.

With the continued momentum for 5G, we predict 13 million 5G subscriptions by the end of this year. A big share of these subscriptions is expected to be in China. All three of the main service providers launched commercial 5G services in Q4 2019. Sign-up of customers started even before launch, with more than 10 million 5G users registered in October 2019. In 2025 we forecast 2.6 billion 5G subscriptions globally, accounting for 29 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 5.4 billion subscriptions and decline to around 4.8 billion subscriptions by the end of 2025 as LTE subscriptions migrate to 5G.

We anticipate a slower decline for 2G (GSM/EDGE-only) subscriptions than previously estimated, particularly in the Middle East and Africa region. In part, this is due to the longer life-cycles of 2G feature phones and the relatively higher cost of smartphones.

Subscriptions and subscribers (billion)

In 2025, 90 percent of subscriptions are projected to be for mobile broadband

We estimate that there will be 8.9 billion mobile subscriptions by the end of 2025, out of which around 90 percent will be for mobile broadband. This is a slightly lower share than previously forecast, due to a slower decline for 2G (GSM/EDGE-only) subscriptions in the Middle East and Africa 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 around 70 percent of all mobile phone subscriptions. It is estimated there will be 5.6 billion smartphone subscriptions by the end of 2019. The number of smartphone subscriptions is forecast to reach 7.4 billion in 2025, or 83 percent of all mobile subscriptions.

Subscriptions for fixed broadband are expected to show limited growth of around 2 percent per year through 2025. [3] Subscriptions for mobile PCs, tablets and routers are expected to show moderate growth, reaching around 330 million in 2025.

In 2025, there will be 8 billion mobile broadband subscriptions.
Smartphone subscriptions by technology (billion)

[1] - Ericsson and GSA, November 2019

[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] - 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