China leads the way as 5G poised as fastest-adopted cellular tech

China 5G subscriptions are expected to surpass other regions and hit over 173 million users by the end of 2021, says the latest Ericsson Mobility ReportThis number is set to rapidly grow to a hefty 1.4 billion subscribers by 2026.

With subscriptions increasing at a rate of approximately one million daily, Ericsson expects global subscribers to hit approximately 3.5 billion with a 60% 5G population coverage by 2026.

Global 5G subscriptions

During the first quarter of 2021, Ericsson reported that global 5G subscriptions with a 5G-capable device grew by 70 million. This number is expected to reach 580 million by the end of 2021. Spurred in no small part by the covid-19 pandemic, the uptake of digital tools and services has proven crucial to global post-pandemic recovery efforts.


Compared to previous mobile cellular networks, the 5th generation network (5G) is expected to be the fastest adopted in history, and is expected to hit one billion subscriptions 2 years earlier than the previous generation of 4G LTE.

Whilst China leads the world in 5G subscriptions, the pace of adoption varies by region. North America and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are expected to follow closely behind. However, Europe appears to be a little slower on the uptake.

One factor driving the rapid adoption of 5G includes China’s early commitment to it, as well as increasing availability and affordability of commercial 5G devices globally (approximately 300 5G-compatible devices are available or are expected to be launched at time of writing).

By 2026, it is expected that North America will hold the largest share of global 5G subscriptions.

China 5G subscription rate outpaces other regions, APAC still highest

ABF media

Whilst 5G subscriptions in APAC are currently still below the two million mark, total mobile subscriptions in the region currently exceed 1.1 billion, with Indonesia being among the top 5 countries globally when it comes to net additions.

Northeast Asia, led by China, currently has the highest 5G subscription rate in the world. Southeast Asia (SEA), on the other hand, is expected to grow its 5G subscribers to approximately 400 million by 2026. This would effectively make Asia the region with the highest 5G subscription at 1.8 billion by 2026.

In a 2019 report by AT Kearney, 5G could add 6-9% to telco revenues from customers and boost revenues from enterprises by 18-22% by 2025. In the 2020 5G race, Thailand had already rolled out 5G services, well before Singapore and Malaysia. However, with that said, the APAC region still has a lot of cybersecurity issues to deal with.

Rapid data consumption key driver of 5G adoption

Smartphones and video consumption have been greatly contributing to data traffic. Global mobile data traffic, excluding traffic generated by fixed wireless access (FWA) exceeded 49 exabytes (EB) per month at the end of 2020. This is projected to grow to 237 EB monthly by 2026.


95% of this traffic is carried by smartphone usage, as can be seen by how the global average data usage per smartphone exceeds 10 GB monthly. Ericsson expects this to hit 35 GB monthly by the end of 2026. As the pandemic accelerates digitalization, the need for reliable, high-speed mobile broadband connectivity is rising as well.

“According to the latest report, almost nine out of ten communications service providers that have launched 5G also have a fixed wireless access (FWA) offering (4G and/or 5G), even in markets with high fiber penetration. This is needed to accommodate increasing FWA traffic, which the report forecasts to grow by a factor of seven to reach 64 EB in 2026,” pointed out the Ericsson Mobility Report 2021.

Furthermore, Massive IoT (NB-IoT and Cat-M) connections are expected to increase by almost 80% this year, with over 330 million connections. By 2026, these technologies are forecasted to comprise 46% of all cellular IoT connections.

As the world moves forward in its digitalization efforts for a post-pandemic recovery, it is imperative for nations to secure and invest in high-quality digital infrastructure to support the demand for wireless mobile networks. This places 5G service providers in a prime position to develop the necessary infrastructure quickly and efficiently enough to roll out services to keep up with demand.


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