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Straight Talk Telecoms

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Ovum has greatly increased its 5G forecasts following the industry’s acceleration of parts of the 5G standard and significant new 5G deployment commitments by major operators. Ovum now forecasts that there will be 111 million 5G mobile broadband subscriptions at end-2021, up more than fourfold from Ovum’s previous forecast of 25 million 5G subscriptions at end-2021, and 389 million 5G mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide at the end of 2022.

Standards acceleration, nationwide deployment drive increase

There have been two huge changes in the 5G market since Ovum published its last 5G subscription forecast in December 2016. First and most importantly, in March the industry accelerated the development of part of the 5G standard to enable standardized commercial 5G deployments in 2019, up to a year earlier than previous deployment timelines.

Second, following the acceleration of the 5G standard, a major operator made arguably the first public commitment to 5G services with full nationwide coverage – and it will be in one of the world's largest markets. T-Mobile USA in May announced plans to use some of its newly acquired 600MHz spectrum to deploy a 5G mobile broadband network starting in 2019, with the aim of full nationwide coverage in 2020. That is the first public commitment by a major operator to deploy 5G services in low-band spectrum with nationwide coverage and will increase uptake considerably compared to 5G services deployed in high-band spectrum, which represented many of the 5G deployments announced before May 2017. High-band 5G services will typically provide hotspot coverage in metro areas and thus will see significantly slower take-up than 5G services in low-band spectrum with nationwide coverage.

These two hugely significant industry developments have led Ovum to significantly revise its 5G forecasts. Ovum now expects 5G mobile broadband services to launch in 2019 and to be offered by more than 120 operators in 45 countries by the end of 2021. Before these developments, in its last 5G forecast, Ovum expected 5G mobile broadband services to launch in 2020 and to be offered by more than 50 operators in some 30 countries.

These market shifts have also led Ovum to increase its forecast for 5G mobile broadband subscriptions to 111 million worldwide at the end of 2021, compared to its previous forecast of 25 million at end-2021.

Following T-Mobile's announcement of nationwide 5G services in 2020, and the impact that will likely have on the 5G deployment plans of its competitors in the US, Ovum now expects the US alone will have 35 million 5G mobile broadband subscriptions at the end of 2021, making it the top 5G market worldwide.

However, China will overtake the US as the top 5G market worldwide by the end of 2022 after 5G launches in 2020–21 by all of China’s major operators, including China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator by subscriptions.

Ovum's current 5G forecasts cover only mobile broadband services, which will be the dominant 5G services throughout the forecast period. The forecasts do not currently cover other 5G use cases such as mission-critical services and IoT. The current 5G forecasts also exclude 5G fixed wireless broadband services, which will be forecast separately.

Straight Talk is a weekly briefing from the desk of the Chief Research Officer. To receive this newsletter by email, please contact us.


Further reading

Radio Access Network Forecast: 2017–22, TE0006-001388 (May 2017)

5G Service Provider Tracker: 1Q17, TE0014-000452 (April 2017)

World Cellular Information Service

World Broadband Information Service

“Industry agrees to accelerate 5G standardization, with first equipment set for 2019,” TE0014-000444 (March 2017)


Mike Roberts, Research Director, Service Provider Markets

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