The world may be grappling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it looks like even the virus cannot slow down 5G‘s rollout. This comes as a new report from Swedish telecom giant Ericsson, states that the growth and uptake of 5G cellular technology is happening faster than expected and it is expected to cover about 60% of the global population by 2026. This would make 5G the fastest deployed mobile network ever, quicker than both 3G and 4G/LTE.
5G technology is poised to change the way we live and is expected to power everything from self-driving cars to advanced augmented reality experiences. The technology is deemed critical in boosting the economy as well as creating new jobs and opportunities in the new normal where digitalisation is crucial.
The report stated that by the end of 2020, there will be 220 million 5G subscriptions around the world. This up from Ericsson’s forecast in June for 190 million, which in itself was an increase from an earlier estimate.
“5G coverage will be built out to the extent that 1 billion will live in 5G coverage areas by the end of 2020 worldwide. That would be around 15% of the world’s population,” said Ericsson’s head of strategic marketing insights, Patrick Cerwall.
Ericsson’s estimates state that by 2026, 5G subscriptions will soar to 3.5 billion globally. This would account for around 40% of all mobile subscriptions at that time. In June 2020, Ericsson estimated there would be 2.8 billion 5G subscriptions globally by 2025.
2020 was supposed to be the year that 5G went mainstream, the spread of COVID-19 cast doubts on how widely the technology would be used this year. Despite this, instead of slowing 5G down, the pandemic has made it easier for carriers to expand their networks faster.
Ericsson cites three main factors for the accelerated rollout of the technology. The first is the availability of low-cost 5G smartphones. For example, in China, 5G smartphones are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased for USD200 (RM816) or even less. In comparison, the base price for a 5G phone in the rest of world is around USD300 (RM1,224).
It should also be noted that is that many countries have chosen to make the installation of 5G infrastructure a strategic technology goal and there is government support.
The third factor is the competition between different operators who are keen to announce 5G support to attract buyers of the latest smartphones. To date there are more than 100 carriers around the world have switched on their 5G service, said Ericsson.
Ericsson said out of the nearly 200 million 5G subscriptions this year, about 175 million (or 87.5%) will be from China. By the end of 2020, about 11% of all mobile subscriptions in the country will be 5G. Conversely, in North America, which includes the US and Canada, only 14 million, or about 4% of subscriptions will be on 5G.
However, Ericsson expects that by 2026, 80% of network subscriptions in North America will be on 5G which will be bigger than all of Northeast Asia –which includes China, Japan and South Korea–which will have 66% of subscribers on 5G.
Looking at the numbers for Southeast Asia and Oceania, it appears that 5G subscriptions are projected to reach 35% by 2026. Interestingly, the data suggests that subscriptions for 4G LTE networks will rise from 51% to 63% due to the phasing out of 3G networks.
Closer to home, Malaysia’s roll out for the next generation mobile technology has been delayed after the change in administration. The initial plan of rolling out 5G services by Q3 2020 was put on the back burner as the new government has shifted its focus on strengthening existing 4G networks under the JENDELA plan.
Minister of Communications and Multimedia, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said that 5G deployment in Malaysia will take place towards the end of 2022 or early 2023 after achieving specific connectivity targets.
Malaysia also plans to shut down 3G networks in the country by the end of 2021. The plan to turn off 3G networks in stages is said to improve 4G networks which will serve as a strong foundation for 5G.