It has become apparent in recent months that anticipation for 5G is much higher than that experienced in the months leading up to long term evolution (LTE) technology. 5G has become a key component of telcos’ mobile broadband business strategy, given its promise of increased network capacity and lower cost per gigabyte. Momentum is building in many global mar­­­kets as service providers accelerate their 5G roll-out plans. As per projections, the world will have 1.5 billion 5G subscriptions in 2024. The Ericsson Mobility Report, November 2018 highlights, the emerging global trends in the 5G space.

5G deployment outlook

5G deployment has gained significant momentum in several countries. In the US, one of the major communications service providers launched a 5G home internet service at the beginning of October 2018, while the country’s four major service providers have announced that they will begin providing 5G services by mid-2019. Other markets expecting significant early 5G subscription volumes include South Korea, Japan and China. In Europe, some spectrum auctions have already been held, and others will take place over the next few years.

Broadly, major 5G network deployments are anticipated from 2020, and by the end of 2024, there will be 1.5 billion 5G subscriptions across the world, acco­unting for around 17 per cent of all mobile subscriptions at the time. 5G will gain uptake faster than LTE, which has been the dominant mobile access technology since the end of 2017.

5G device outlook

The third quarter of 2018 has seen several device vendors reveal their 5G ambitions as well as 5G smartphone designs. Key cellular chipset suppliers are spending signifi­cant resources on developing their 5G offerings.

However, this is just the beginning of a major technology shift, with many challenges ahead. Not every market has the same access to spectrum. While the 5G mar­­ket in North America is largely focused on millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum bands, other markets will concentrate on sub-6 GHz spectrum in different forms and variants. This means chipset and infrastructure vendors need to concurrently work on three non-stand-alone 5G variants – time division duplex (TDD) for mmWave, TDD for mid-band and frequency division duplex for low-band. The concept of stand-alone 5G is also emerging. Compared to LTE, the scope of 5G is much wider.

Despite the complexities, device and infrastructure vendors are now continuously announcing products for mmWave, mid-band and low-band variants. More than 20 devices were announced in October 2018. There are strong indications that indoor customer premises equipment and pocket routers for mid-band will be available by the end of 2018. For smartphones, a strong lineup is projected for the second quarter of 2019. Second-generation chipsets with en­hanced architectures and lower power consumption are expected to be launched by the end of 2019, which will enable more 5G-capable devices. Modules for laptops and industrial applications are expected during the same time.

5G will take off in 2019 and enter the mass market in 2020. By then, third-generation chipsets will have been introduced and a large number of devices will be available.

Mobile data traffic outlook

Around 90 per cent of the total mobile data traffic today is generated by smartphones, which is projected to reach 95 per cent at the end of 2024. As monthly usage per smartphone continues to increase, the to­tal mobile data traffic is predicted to rise at a compound annual growth rate of 31 per cent over the forecast period, reaching 136 exabytes per month by the end of 2024. Ar­o­und 25 per cent of the mobile data traffic world­­wide is expected to be carried by 5G networks.

Currently, the 5G traffic forecast does not include the traffic generated by fixed wireless access (FWA) services. However, as FWA is one of the early use cases planned for 5G in some regions, it could have a significant impact on the forecast figures.

Network coverage

At present, mobile networks cover around 95 per cent of the world’s population. Further, the build-out of LTE networks has not lost momentum driven by the demand for internet access, video streaming and a variety of apps. In terms of population coverage, LTE is currently at over 60 per cent and is forecast to reach around 90 per cent by 2024. 5G is projected to cover more than 40 per cent of the world’s population by 2024. Deployments in existing LTE bands can be rapidly upgraded to support 5G services in many networks by installing new software.

The way forward

5G network deployments have begun in several regions worldwide. One of the first 5G use cases will be FWA, as devices with form factors suitable for customer premises equipment will be early to the market. The­se will not have the stringent size, wei­ght and power consumption requirements that smartphones have. As 5G smartphones be­come available during 2019, several service providers are expected to commercially launch 5G. In North America and Nor­theast Asia, significant 5G subscription volumes are expected at an early stage.