4G will remain the dominant mobile network technology until 2027, and continue to grow subscriber numbers through 2023, according to a forecast from Omdia. Ahead of MWC, the market researcher noted that 5G is offered by less than a third of global mobile operators and still has several years to go before becoming mainstream. 4G will start to lose subscribers only in 2024 and still be used by a majority of mobile devices worldwide until 2027. 

5G subscriptions increased by 446 million in 2022 versus growth of 592 million for 4G, thirteen years after 4G’s initial launch, Omdia said. Its research has found that only 31 percent of mobile operators offered 5G in 2022, but this is expected to rise to 59 percent by the end of 2023. 

The market researcher sees the 5G market growing slower than expected in the near term, as the high inflation puts pressure on handset sales and the upgrade so far offers little performance enhancement or new applications for most users. Omdia noted further that a growing number of mobile connections are not phones, such as tablets, wearables, sensors and industrial equipment, and these devices will take longer to convert to 5G. 

Lower 5G forecast for 2023

Based on the most recently reported subscriber numbers for 2022, Omdia reduced its 2023 forecast by 7.2 percent, or approximately 150 million subscriptions. The market should make up the numbers by 2025, once global market conditions are improved, the company expects. Overall, Omdia still expects 5G will account for 5.9 billion subscriptions in 2027, equivalent to a population penetration of 70.9 percent.

It recommends a “net-zero” approach for operators working on the deployment of 5G, “removing the old as the new gets deployed”, to avoid excess complexity from running multiple network technologies at once. “Key stakeholders should remain realistic about the prospects for 5G and re-evaluate the business case before moving on to the next step,” the market researcher said.

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