With smartphone companies building strong portfolios of affordable and attractive 5G smartphones, the 5G market is enjoying growth that has exceeded expectations influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and global supply chain challenges. The 5G market continues to enjoy impressive momentum globally. Early leadership from 'pioneer' operators in South Korea and China has given way to extensive deployments and healthy adoption across developed, and a growing number of developing markets.
According to the GSA, by the end of September 2021, 180 operators in 72 countries had launched 3GPP-based 5G services, either mobile or fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband deployments: 172 were offering commercial 5G mobile services and 66 5G FWA services. At the same time in the 4G lifecycle, Strategy Analytics counted just 75 commercial 4G LTE networks.
29% of the world’s population to be covered by at least one commercial 5G network by the end of 2021
More than 1.5mn 5G base stations have been deployed in the last two years, according to Strategy Analytics, with over one million of these in China. Few operators globally have moved at the pace of the Chinese, but there are a growing number of operators who have built out 5G to more than half of the population in their market. By the end of 2021, Strategy Analytics forecasts that 2.3bn people will be covered by at least one commercial 5G network, 29% of the world's population.
As with the network launches, this rate of coverage growth is more than 2x that seen with 4G LTE. We forecast that 5G networks will cover two-thirds of the world's population by the end of 2026.
While the rate of 5G network expansion has been encouraging, Strategy Analytics has been impressed with the momentum building behind Standalone 5G in 2021. The GSA has counted 19 operators in 15 countries who have launched public 5G Standalone networks by October 2021.
5G subscriber growth surpasses 4G
5G subscriber growth has also been strong and significantly outperformed 4G. The number of 5G subscriptions globally increased from 510mn at the end of June 2021 to 640mn in September, a level that it took 4G over five years to reach. According to our device technologies team, 425mn 5G phones were shipped in the first nine months of 2021, 3x above 2020 levels, and they forecast that 60% of smartphones sold in 2022 and 77% sold in 2026 will support 5G.
Very early in the 5G technology cycle there is already 'something for everyone' in the smartphone market, with Apple dominating the high end and a growing number of (Chinese) vendors producing sub-US$200 models for a global audience. While there has been healthy growth in FWA services and emerging enterprise applications, 5G phones are accounting for the bulk of 5G volumes today.