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5G commercial services will launch in 2020, and there will be 24 million 5G subscriptions worldwide at the end of 2021 for mobile and fixed broadband services, according to Ovum’s inaugural 5G subscription forecasts released this week.

US, Japan, China, and South Korea will lead

North America and Asia will each account for more than 40% of global 5G subscriptions at the end of 2021, followed by Europe with more than 10% of subscriptions, and the Middle East and Africa accounting for the remainder.

Ovum estimates that 5G services will be available in more than 20 markets worldwide by the end of 2021, with services in all four major world regions. However, the vast majority of 5G subscriptions will be concentrated in the US, Japan, China, and South Korea, where major operators have revealed aggressive timelines for launching 5G services.

The main use case for 5G through 2021 will be enhanced mobile broadband services, although fixed broadband services will also be supported, especially in the US. Over time, 5G will support a host of use cases, including the Internet of Things and mission-critical communications, but Ovum does not believe those use cases will be supported by standardized 5G services through 2021.

A number of operators have announced plans to launch what they describe as 5G services before 2020, but these will not typically be based on networks and devices complying with 5G standards, and so are excluded from Ovum’s forecasts.

Ovum defines a 5G subscription as an active connection to a 5G network via a 5G device. 5G is further defined as a system based on and complying with 3GPP 5G standards, beginning with parts of 3GPP Release 15, which is scheduled to be finalized in 2018.

Ovum’s 5G forecasts use the following methodology:

  • primary and secondary research on announced and planned launch dates for 5G services by operators worldwide

  • assessment of early 5G use cases based on operator and vendor plans, market demand, and 5G standardization

  • analysis of spectrum availability by band and market for 5G services in the forecast period

  • estimation of 5G adoption rates by market based on historical adoption rates, operator 5G strategy and use cases, and 5G spectrum availability and characteristics

  • input from Ovum’s 5G radio access network equipment forecast, published in May 2016

  • review and validation of 5G subscription forecasts.

5G is at an early stage and there is a high degree of uncertainty around 5G deployment and adoption, including significant upside and downside risks. Ovum will update its 5G forecasts every six months.


Further reading

Mobile Subscription and Revenue Forecast: 2016–21, TE0009-001546 (August 2016)

5G Service Provider Tracker: 1Q16, TE0014-000408 (May 2016)

5G in Europe, TE0014-000405 (May 2016)

Operators Weigh In on 5G: A Global Survey, TE0006-001175 (February 2016)

5G Taking Shape for 2020, but Early Hype Needs a Reality Check, TE0009-001483 (December 2015)


Mike Roberts, Practice Leader, Americas

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