How are 5G network deployments shaping up? Are consumers switching? How much are MNOs investing in CAPEX? And when can they expect a return on investment? Here are the big numbers on the past, present and future of 5G.

By the end of 2022, one billion consumers could look at their devices and see the letters ‘5G’ appear in the top corner. Yes, it seems like yesterday that super-fast mobile 5G was just a dream. Now, it’s moving close to the mainstream.

5G is, of course, the fifth generation cellular network. It delivers data transfers that are up to 100 times faster than 4G, and supports millions more devices without loss of service. As such, 5G is creating unprecedented opportunities for people and businesses.  

But the truth is that the vast majority of 5G’s billion subscribers are not accessing ‘true’ 5G at all. Not yet.

What’s currently on offer (for most) is non-standalone 5G. Non-standalone networks use new 5G radio technologies but still rely on the underlying 4G infrastructure. 5G standalone (SA) networks are different. They are based on a cloud-based virtualised core. This will massively speed up connections, boost capacity and extend reach.

The impact on the global economy will be profound. As the first standalone networks start to roll out, let’s review the key data for the world of 5G…

5G: projections for consumer adoption

By the end of 2022, there will be 1 billion 5G subscriptions. By 2025, 5G will account for a quarter of all total mobile connections.

5G adoption in 2025                              % of connections        number of subs
Developed Asia Pacific                          64                                    195m 
North America Greater                           63                                    272m
China                                                                52                                    892m
GCC Arab States                                   49                                    41m
Europe                                                 44                                    304m
Rest of MENA                                        12                                    75m
Latin America                                        11                                     82m
CIS                                                          9                                     36m
Rest of Asia Pacific                                 8                                    222m
Sub-Saharan Africa                                  4                                    38m

Source: GSMA Mobile Economy 2022

5G: live and planned network launches

Without doubt, the 5G era is up and running. At the more premium end of the consumer market, it’s now pretty mainstream. 

The number of commercially available 5G services reached around 200 by the end of 2021, according to the Global Suppliers Association (GSA). Meanwhile, as of 2022, at least 487 operators in 145 countries were at the planning stage of 5G. They have held trials, acquired spectrum licenses, or started the process of deployment.

Of course, the vast majority of network builds and consumer connections are based on non-standalone 5G networks, which use new radio technologies but still rely on the underlying 4G core. 

Next generation ‘standalone’ 5G is still embryonic. GSA says 36 operators in 21 countries and territories are understood to have launched public 5G SA networks. 
It says 111 operators in 52 countries are investing in public 5G SA networks in the form of trials, planned or actual deployments.

T-Mobile USA claimed to be the first to launch when it announced a commercial nationwide SA 5G network in August 2020. Since then there have been live roll outs by Vodafone Germany, Telia Finland, TPG Telecom and Telstra in Australia, Telenor Denmark and more.

5G network rollouts (November 2022)

•    200 live commercial 5G services
•    487 MNOs in 145 countries planning 5G launches
•    36 operators in 21 countries have launched 5G SA networks.
•    111 operators in 52 countries are investing in 5G SA networks

Source: GSA 5G Ecosystem Summary report November 2022

5G: available devices

5G devices began appearing in 2019, but really began to proliferate in 2021 and 2022 and network rollouts accelerated.

According to the GSA, the number of announced 5G devices hit 1650 from 207 manufacturers in October 2022. Of these, 1291 are commercially available. This is an increase of 50.7 percent in the number launched as of December 2021. The available models comprise 878 phones with the rest being fixed wireless access customer equipment, tablets, wearables etc. 

5G: the commercial impact

Between 2022 and 2025, the world’s MNOs will spend $620 billion on CAPEX – and 85 percent of it will be on 5G. 

These are huge sums. So why are MNOs pouring money into 5G network infrastructure? For the simple reason that they expect a huge return on the investment in the decades to come.

But it won’t just be the telcos that benefit. Super-fast low latency connectivity has the power to unleash innovation that will transform existing industries – and birth new ones.

According to the GSMA, 5G is expected to benefit the global economy by more than $960 billion in 2030, mostly in developed regions, including East Asia and the Pacific, North America and Europe. Towards the end of the decade, other regions will also start benefiting from 5G, thanks to more network deployments. 

It adds that 5G is expected to benefit all economic sectors of the global economy, with services (comprising finance, government, education and healthcare) the biggest winner.

The $960 billion 5G economy – contribution by industry 2030 

Services (finance, government, education and healthcare)                                   42%
Manufacturing                                                                                                   38%
Utilities                                                                                                                           8%        
ICT                                                                                                                                8%
Retail                                                                                                                              3%
Other                                                                                                                              2%

Source: GSMA Mobile Economy 2022 

5G: the commercial upside of network slicing

For MNOs, one of the most profound ‘properties’ of 5G is the ability to allocate network capacity to private enterprises. This is network slicing. It gives enterprises the means to set up high speed, low latency connections in a self-contained environment. 

This supercharged connectivity is expected to transform verticals such as manufacturing, oil and gas, mining, shipping and more – as well as powering new markets including telehealth, cloud gaming and smart cities.

Private 5G mobile networks are already here. They have been serving niche use cases since 2019. But this ‘first-gen’ private networking is CAPEX heavy. Only companies with deep capital and IT resources can justify it. 

Most enterprises need a 5G connectivity option that requires little or no upfront CAPEX. They are waiting for slicing of public 5G SA networks to become available.  
The option is not commercially available yet (it’s constrained by the limited rollout of 5G standalone core). But it’s coming soon.

It appears that appetite for network slicing is growing. A report by Analysys Mason found that 76 per cent of manufacturers are planning to adopt private 5G networks by 2024. They cited increased network security (63 percent), network performance (49 percent), and application performance (45 percent) as their key motivators.

This should make telcos confident of that 5G slicing can generate considerable ROI.
According to ABI Research, 5G slicing revenue is expected to grow from $309 million in 2022 to approximately $24 billion in 2028.

5G: the impact on data consumption

The arrival of 4G era started a surge in mobile data traffic. Consumers – and enterprises – enthusiastically embraced new behaviors based around (almost) unlimited data tariff models. 

According to Ericsson’s Mobility Report 2022, the world’s mobile users consume around 90 exabytes a month. That’s 90 billion gigabytes. However, this number is projected to reach 325 EB per month in 2028. The forecast assumes that uptake of extremely data-hungry applications including AR, VR and mixed reality.

And 5G is the catalyst for this data explosion. Ericsson’s Mobility Report also says 5G’s share of mobile data traffic will be 17 percent by the end of 2022. This share is projected to hit 69 percent by 2028.

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