5G in stats: Riding 5G’s second wave
After much hype, last year finally started to see the telecom operators’ dreams materialise as uptake of 5G finally started to take off globally – and this year it is set to go even further.
New figures from mobile network operator alliance, the GSMA, suggest that, at its current momentum, 5G is the fastest generational roll-out compared to its predecessors 3G and 4G.
Consumer connections surpassed one billion at the end of 2022, according to GSMA Intelligence – a figure which is predicted to increase by half this year to 1.5 billion, before doubling to two billion by the end of 2025 – the acceleration, in part, due to new 5G network deployments which are expected to reach more than 30 countries in 2023 alone.
Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) calculated 1.15 billion 5G subscribers at the end of 2022, a jump of over 530 million from 619 million a year earlier, or nearly 90% (85.9%) year-on-year growth.
As it stands, 5G subscriptions now account for just shy of 11% of all mobile subscriptions and it is forecast to grow to 16% by the end of 2023 (1.77 billion).
Regional markets pioneering 5G uptake
In Q4 2022, Ericsson predicted North America and North East Asia – the spear-headers of 5G growth over the past two years – to have the highest 5G subscription penetration, according to its latest Mobility Report, at around 35%, followed by the Gulf Cooperation Council countries at 20% and Western Europe at 11%.
A chief driver for growth in these regions is a shift to digital payments in many markets because of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as increased competition and a supportive regulatory environment.
Brazil and India are also set to boost 5G subscriptions – the latter expected to hit 690 million by the end of 2028, or nearly 53% of all subscriptions, influenced by recent rollouts of 5G services to 13 cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata.
Bharti Airtel, one of India’s biggest telcos, aims to cover 5000 towns and cities with 5G by March 2024, and Reliance Jio, its competitor, is targeting coverage of the entire country by December 2023.
By the end of 2025, GSMA predicts there will be four 5G networks in the country, accounting for 145 million additional users.
The industry can also expect to welcome some new arrivals with 5G networks to launch this year in developing regions across Africa – including Ethiopia and Ghana – and Asia.
The Sub-Saharan Africa region’s economy is projected to be one of the fastest growing regions globally, and network investments are now shifting focus to increasing coverage and capacity, especially for mobile broadband connections. GSMA expects it will reach over 4% by 2025, from 1% currently, and 16% in 2030.
“Until now, 5G adoption has been driven by relatively mature markets and consumer use cases like enhanced mobile broadband, but that’s changing,” observes Peter Jarich, head of GSMA Intelligence. “We’re now entering a second wave for 5G that will see the technology engage a diverse set of new markets and audiences.”
In terms of enterprise investment in 5G, a 2023 study from EY Global, Reimagining Industry Futures, suggests the US is leading with 35% of organsiations currently investing – up from 20% last year. This is compounded by rising levels of both current and planned investment in the region: 89% of firms have current or future 5G investment plans, up from 72% the previous year.
Meanwhile, current and future investments are largely static in Europe and Asia. The proportion of enterprises in Asia currently investing in 5G stands at just 10%, down from 17% in last year’s study. Yet the proportion planning 5G investments in the coming year has risen by 7%, suggesting that some organisations are deferring 5G expenditure.
5G FWA on the climb
Fixed Wireless Access, which can support 5G technology, is the next generation of wireless connectivity offering ultra-high speeds, low latency and massive capacity.
Ericsson reported that more than three-quarters of service providers surveyed in over 100 countries are now offering fixed wireless access (FWA) services, and nearly one-third of service providers are now offering it over 5G, compared to one-fifth a year ago.
The telco added that there will be more than 300 million FWA connections by 2028, triple the number of connections at the end of 2022.
As of January 2023, GSMA said that more than 90 fixed broadband service providers (the vast majority of which are mobile operators) had launched commercial 5G-based fixed wireless services across over 48 countries – this means around 40% of 5G commercial mobile launches worldwide currently include an FWA offering.
In the US, T-Mobile added over half a million 5G FWA customers in Q4 2021 and Q1 2022 combined. By 2025, it expects to have eight million FWA subscribers, while Verizon is targeting five million FWA subscribers for the same period.
With operators such as Jio announcing ambitions to connect as many as 100 million homes across India to its 5G FWA network, GSMA said the number of FWA users looks likely to grow substantially over the next few years
The network slicing market – allowing businesses to control traffic resources on a more granular level – is also catching momentum in FWA.
“The commercial success of FWA over 5G has been developing steadily. Connecting FWA with Stand Alone (SA) 5G, potentially with a network slice, also brings attractive new ingredients to the market,” Ericsson observed in its report.
And while the majority of current 5G FWA deployments focus on the 3.5–3.8 GHz bands, several operators around the world are already using 5G mmWave spectrum which ultimately provides the highest levels of speed and capacity making cutting-edge technology, such as autonomous vehicles, possible.
In 2023 alone, the industry will see ten more countries assigned 5G mmWave spectrum for use – a significant increase from the 22 countries who have been assigned it to date.
5G in Enterprise
In terms of enterprise 5G usage – which the MNOs are dependent on given the huge scale of investments in the technology and infrastructure that they have made – the signs are also positive.
In fact, figures from GSMA Intelligence suggest that the enterprise market will be the main driver of 5G revenue growth over the next decade.
“Revenues from business customers already represent around 30% of total revenues on average for major operators, with further potential as enterprise digitisation scales,” the GSMA said.
“Edge computing and IoT technology presents further opportunities for 5G, with 12% of operators having already launched private wireless solutions – a figure that will grow with a wider range of expected IoT deployments in 2023,” the organisation added.
Another major development for enterprise will be the commercial availability of 5G Advanced in 2025. Focusing on uplink technology, MNOs claim that 5G Advanced will improve speed, coverage, mobility and power efficiency – and support a new wave of business opportunities.
GSMA’s Network Transformation survey showed half of operators expect to support 5G Advanced commercial networks within two years of its launch.
According to UK consultancy giant Deloitte, the migration to 5G standalone core networks is also expected heavily drive enterprise usage, allowing for increased device density, reliability, and latency, opening the door to advanced enterprise applications.
While the numbers are fluid, Deloitte predicts the number of MNOs investing in 5G SA networks – with trials, planned deployments, or actual rollouts – to double from more than 100 operators in 2022 to at least 200 by the end of 2023.
The EY report also touched upon more enterprises using 5G-based IoT to improve their energy efficiency and sustainability, with nearly 80% (78%) of businesses using it to influence their sustainability journeys.
5G unlocking new technologies
Perhaps one of the more novel but nevertheless attractive areas of 5G investment is in remote working, VR, AR and energy efficiency.
EY said that “all of these are rated markedly more significant application areas for 5G-based IoT than in the previous year’s research”.
In healthcare, for instance, The University of Glasgow has created a 5G enabled remote specialist of a bi-directional robotic arm that allows patients to receive healthcare remotely.
The rise of the 5G connected ambulance also allows paramedics to send high resolution 360° images in real time and make reliable and secure video calls to aid diagnosis; doctors can receive diagnostic examinations, such as Ultrasound examinations using a Haptic Glove, from the scene or in transit before the patient arrives at the hospital, optimising the treatment time.
Paramedics can also instantly review a patient’s healthcare history and apply required procedures when wearing AR-equipped glasses.
In aquaculture, last year JET Connectivity launched its floating 5G and live data systems, specifically designed to improve the wellbeing of workers and minimise carbon emissions.
Users connect to the 5G network without the need for specialist equipment and are immediately able to use internet and voice capabilities.
The platforms also host a range of sensors which relay their data live over the network to give a real time picture of the sea state, weather, and other environmental factors. These can be used to reduce the reliance on carbon intensive vessels to collect and deliver the information.
In terms of future investment intentions, EY said 5G has the most active profile of all the emerging technologies, and it is certainly one to watch.
According to EY, 57% of enterprises plan to invest in 5G in the next one to three years, while only 7% believe the technology is irrelevant to their organisation – down sharply from 12% last year.
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