The movements of various mobile operators, especially in Europe, to advance the launch of their 5G networks have prompted analysts to increase their acceptance forecasts, with the number of connections expected to reach 340 million by 2021.
This figure will rise to 1 billion by 2023 and to 2.7 billion by 2025, after which 5G will represent one in five mobile connections worldwide, says CCS Insight.
The first 5G networks will be launched later this year in the US, initially with Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband, with operators in Asia expected to follow in 2019 and 2020 after the launch of compatible smartphones next year.
There was concern that fragmentation of the market and fierce competition would lead to Europe falling behind in the race to 5G, but several operators have made letters of intent in recent weeks.
Nordic operator Telia launched a pre-commercial 5G network last week in the Finnish capital Helsinki, while Swisscom, BT, Telecom Italia and Telenor all have advanced plans. This is in line with the more cautious approach of Vodafone, Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica, which have only committed to the launch date of 2020.
"The intentions of major US carriers to launch 5G by the end of 2018 have been clear for a while, but recently we have seen more urgency to implement networks of suppliers in Europe, the Middle East and China," says Kester Mann, an analyst CCS In sight. "Although Europe is still adrift of the leading markets in 5G for about a year, some regional operators are clearly determined to launch commercial services next year".
Mann says that if BT et al launch 5G earlier than planned, the pressure on the larger mobile groups to catalyze their plans will be big. Indeed, it predicts that there will be 20 million 5G connections in Europe by 2020, with 100 million by 2022.
Meanwhile, a number of operators from the Middle East have said they plan to launch 5G soon – possibly as a result of upmanship in the region – while recent events suggest that China is preparing for a major acceleration of its rollout.
The Chinese government is considering a merger of state-owned companies China Unicorn and China Telecom, while their larger competitor China Mobile is also approaching a launch. There is also the possibility that Huawei and ZTE can increase the focus on their home market due to political tensions that limit the possibilities in the US and Australia.
China is expected to reach the largest 5G market in 2020 with 40 million connections and reaches 20 billion by 2025.
Several flagship devices will be equipped with 5G connectivity by the end of 2019, as Android smartphones manufacturers want to reverse sales delays, although Apple is expected to wait a little longer with the iPhone. No less than 60 million smartphones will be sold next year, a figure that will rise to 500 million by 2021.