The latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report comes with a couple of adjusted projections for the period to 2029, including an upgraded forecast for 5G mobile subscriptions at the global level.

During the presentation of the June 2024 report on Wednesday, Peter Jonsson, executive editor of the Ericsson Mobility Report, said Ericsson has “slightly upward adjusted our forecast, with around 300 million more [5G subscriptions] at the end of 2029 than we reported in November.”

According to the report, 5G subscriptions increased by 160 million during the first quarter of 2024, to total 1.7 billion. Nearly 600 million new 5G subscriptions are expected to be added this year as a whole.

In 2029, 5G mobile subscriptions are set to reach nearly 5.6 billion, accounting for 60% of all mobile subscriptions at that time. 5G is expected to become the dominant mobile access technology by subscription in 2028.

David von Koch, senior market analyst at Ericsson, noted that the upward revision is owing to a more positive outlook for the Africa and Middle East region, driven by two aspects: the expected availability of more low- and mid-spectrum, and a larger choice of more affordable 5G devices.

It is projected that North America will still have the highest 5G penetration in 2029 at 90%, followed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at 89% and Western Europe at 86%.

More standalone 5G required

At the same time, Ericsson warned that there is a need for continued deployments of standalone (SA) 5G networks and additional densification of mid-band sites to “fully realize the potential of 5G.”

While around 300 service providers have now launched commercial 5G services, the majority of these are still non-standalone networks that remain anchored to the older 4G core. Only around 50 operators worldwide have deployed or launched 5G standalone, according to figures from Ericsson and the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA). 

Jonsson noted that 5G SA deployments will continue to grow as they are “needed to do network slicing and to provide new type of capabilities from the 5G innovation perspective.”

Ericsson also pointed out that many devices already provide support for 5G network slicing.

“Starting from Android 13 and iOS 17, developers can include functions and capabilities in their apps to align with certain network characteristics (such as lower latency or higher bandwidth) offered by service provider-provisioned network slices,” the report said. 

The China and India effect 

In terms of its other forecasts, Ericsson was forced to revise downwards its figures for mobile data owing to lower numbers being reported by regulators and service providers in China and India for the second half of 2023.

In China, for instance, Von Koch noted that mobile data grew by 15% last year after 18% and 31% in the two preceding years. “The reason is that they have a very strong fixed network in China,” he said. 

In India, mobile traffic growth remains high, but von Koch conceded that Ericsson was perhaps a “little too optimistic” because of the high level of growth in previous years. 

“If you go back a couple of years in India, the traffic growth has surprised us many times. It has been close to 50%, but this time, we were a little bit too optimistic, and then we have reversed or adjusted our numbers when we get the new input from the CSPs,” he said. 

Overall, the predicted yearly mobile data traffic growth rate between 2023 and 2029 remains similar, although from a lower starting point, the report said. Mobile data traffic is forecast to grow with a CAGR of around 20% through 2029.

Total global mobile data traffic – excluding traffic generated by fixed wireless access (FWA) – is expected to grow by a factor of around 3 and reach 313 EB per month in 2029. When FWA is included, total mobile network traffic is anticipated to grow by a factor of around 3.5, rising to 466 EB per month by the end of the forecast period.

As for FWA itself, the report noted that there has been solid growth here in terms of the number of service providers that offer 5G-based home broadband offers. 

“There are 128 service providers offering FWA services over 5G, representing 53% of all FWA service providers,” the report said.

It added that speed-based tariff plans are now offered by 40% of FWA service providers, up from 27% a year ago. The remaining 60% have volume-based tariff plans, or buckets of GB per month.

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