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Report: 5G Rollout Forecast

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5G connections will surpass one billion by 2023 according to CCS insights.

We have recently seen a flurry of operators stating their ambitions to rollout 5G services more quickly than previously planned. This has prompted tech analyst firm CCS Insight to revise its forecast, raising near-term expectations for these services.

Their new report now predicts that 5G connections will reach 340 million in 2021, before surpassing 1 billion in the first half of 2023. By 2025, the total is expected to hit 2.7 billion, equivalent to more than one connection in every five in the world.

“The intentions of major US carriers to launch 5G in late 2018 have been clear for a while. But recently we’ve seen greater urgency to deploy networks from providers in Europe, the Middle East and China,” said Kester Mann, principal analyst at CCS Insight. “While Europe may still be around a year adrift of the leading markets in 5G, some regional operators are clearly determined to launch commercial services as soon as next year”.

Last week, Telia launched a pre-commercial 5G network in Helsinki in preparation for a full commercial offering in 2019. The Nordic provider has a pedigree in early launches of mobile technology, having claimed to be “first in the world” to launch commercial 4G, in late 2009.

The new report by CCS Insights now predicts that 5G connections will reach 340 million in 2021 Share on X

Recent bullish statements from other networks including Telecom Italia, BT, Swisscom and Telenor point to 5G becoming a commercial reality in Europe sooner than previously assumed. Finnish operator Elisa has even gone a step further, claiming to have launched a commercial network already – albeit without supporting devices.

These ambitions contrast with the more cautious approach of major groups like Vodafone, Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica, which have only committed to commercial 5G services in 2020. “Nevertheless, once networks are launched, the motivation to bring users onto them will be huge”, says Mann.

Tech Trends report 5G Mobile
5G connections worldwide, 2018-2025 Source: CCS Insight Market Forecast: 5G Connections, Worldwide, 2018-2015


Recently we've seen greater urgency to deploy 5G networks from providers in Europe, the Middle East and China Share on X

Another region with a positive near-term outlook is the Middle East, after a quartet of regional providers made bold claims of early network deployments within days of each other in May 2018. According to the report, these assertions are likely to have been motivated by local one-upmanship, yet illustrate more bullish expectations for the region than previously assumed.

The iPhone is unlikely to be among the first 5G phones in 2019 Share on X

The report further states that it expects China to overtake the US to become the biggest 5G market in 2020, with 40 million connections. By 2025, connections in China will surpass 1 billion, accounting for nearly four connections in every ten worldwide. The country remains the biggest source globally of 5G adoption by far, with indications that the country’s largest operator, China Mobile, may launch ahead of previous expectations, in 2019. Additionally, local infrastructure suppliers Huawei and ZTE may sharpen their focus on the domestic market following recent geopolitical tension that has led to more challenging environments in several markets, including the US and Australia. And a potential merger of China Telecom and China Unicom has been rumoured to be driven by a desire to achieve global 5G supremacy.

In the US, carriers are gearing up to launch the first commercial 5G networks, possibly as soon as this month. The initial focus will be on fixed wireless technology, but without supporting smartphones this will remain a niche opportunity, as it will account for just one percent of 5G connections worldwide by 2025.

China is expected to overtake the US as the biggest 5G market in 2020 Share on X

Indeed, all these early network launches wouldn’t allow users to move to 5G connections without the efforts of smartphone makers and chipset suppliers to deliver the first 5G-enabled mobile phones as soon as Spring 2019. The very first handsets will have room for improvement, but by the end of 2019, it is expected that many major flagship smartphones will support the new technology. especially in affluent countries. The iPhone is unlikely to be among the first 5G phones in 2019. But despite Apple’s possible late arrival, almost 60 million 5G-enabled smartphones are forecast to be sold in 2019.

“This means Android smartphone makers will jump at the opportunity to offer some innovation in the hope of tempting people to replace their phone next year”, concludes Marina Koytcheva, vice president of forecasting at CCS Insight.

Tech Trends report 5G Mobile

Alice Bonasio is a VR and Digital Transformation Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow @alicebonasio on Twitter.