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Massive surge in 5G subscriptions predicted in 2021

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 18 Jun 2021

Ericsson projects 5G mobile subscriptions will exceed 580 million by the end of 2021, driven by an estimated one million new 5G mobile subscriptions every day.

The forecast, which features in the 20th edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report, enhances the expectation that 5G will become the fastest adopted mobile generation.

About 3.5 billion 5G subscriptions and 60% 5G population coverage are forecast by the end of 2026, says Ericsson.

However, it notes the pace of adoption varies widely by region. Europe is off to a slower start and has continued to fall far behind China, the US, Korea, Japan and the Gulf Cooperation Council markets in the pace of 5G deployments.

In SA, 5G networks still remain patchy in the country’s metros, with mobile operators waiting for telecoms regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), to auction the much-needed high-demand spectrum to expand 5G coverage.

To date, the telcos have used temporary spectrum that ICASA released in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to launch 5G networks.

In May last year, Vodacom switched on its 5G mobile network in three cities – Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town – with further rollouts planned to other parts of the country.

MTN’s 5G network, also launched last year, covers areas of Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.

In 2019, mobile data-only network operator Rain activated Africa’s first commercial 5G network.

ICASA was set to auction the long-awaited high-demand spectrum by 31 March 2021.

However, it was dealt a blow when MTN, Telkom and Etv took the regulator to court, challenging some aspects of the auction process.

Last week, ICASA said the ongoing settlement negotiations on spectrum litigation are unfolding well and with a very encouraging outlook.

According to Ericsson, 5G is expected to surpass a billion subscriptions two years ahead of the 4G LTE timeline for the same milestone.

It notes that key factors behind that include China’s earlier commitment to 5G and the earlier availability and increasing affordability of commercial 5G devices.

The report points out that more than 300 5G smartphone models have already been announced or launched commercially.

This commercial 5G momentum is expected to continue in coming years, spurred by the enhanced role of connectivity as a key component of post-COVID-19 economic recovery, it adds.

Fredrik Jejdling, executive vice-president and head of networks at Ericsson, says: “This landmark 20th edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report shows we are in the next phase of 5G, with accelerating rollouts and coverage expansion in pioneer markets such as China, the US and South Korea.

“Now is the time for advanced use cases to start materialising and deliver on the promise of 5G. Businesses and societies are also preparing for a post-pandemic world, with 5G-powered digitalisation playing a critical role.”