Though LTE will remain dominant through the end of this decade and into the next, early commercial rollouts of 5G technology will cover nearly 15 percent of the global population by 2022, Ericsson predicted in its latest Mobility Report.
The 2017 forecast marks a significant departure from the 5G connection predictions included in last year’s report. Though Ericsson last year called for only 150 million 5G subscribers by 2021, the report now indicates 5G will garner 500 million subscriptions just two years after initial commercial deployments in 2020. The technology is expected to launch in major metropolitan areas first, and will follow an adoption rate similar to that of LTE, the report said.
But the crown for the largest number of subscriptions will go to LTE, which is expected to become the dominant mobile access technology in 2018. GSMA on Tuesday revealed there are now more than 5 billion unique global subscribers with mobile connections – a figure Ericsson said LTE alone will match by the end of 2022. Total worldwide mobile subscriptions will hit nearly 9 billion in 2022, Ericsson said, with a total of 6.8 billion smartphone subscriptions.
The LTE networks that will dominate the coming years will be carrying a staggering amount of data. Total mobile data traffic from smartphones across the globe is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 45 percent to hit a whopping 66 exabytes per month. In North America, the average amount of data traffic per smartphone per month is expected to hit 26 GB, while total mobile traffic from smartphones, mobile PCs, and tablets will tally up to 9.8 exabytes per month.
Ericsson said operators are already tweaking their networks to accommodate this load, evolving to LTE-Advanced technologies that enable wider coverage areas, increased network capacity, and faster data speeds. Category 16 LTE – also known as Gigabit LTE – will offer the opportunity to deliver fiber-like mobile broadband speeds.
Out of the 591 commercial LTE networks Ericsson counted, the company said 194 have been upgraded with LTE-A technologies starting with Category-4 technology. The company noted 163 networks offer speeds of up to 300 Mbps using Cat-6 technology, while 41 can hit 450 Mbps with Cat-9. A handful of networks (9) can offer 600 Mbps through the use of Cat-11 technology. Only one Cat-16 Gigabit LTE network has been commercially launched so far, though several more deployments are in progress, Ericsson said.