Ericsson expects the global number of 5G mobile subscriptions to reach 100 million this year as a wider range of more affordable handsets is launched.
There were 13 million 5G network users at the end of 2019 thanks to deployments in South Korea and the U.S., Executive Vice President Fredrik Jejdling said at a company event in London on Feb. 13. The next-generation mobile network technology offers faster broadband speeds compared to 4G.
Ericsson previously forecast 2.6 billion 5G subscriptions by 2025 as larger markets such as China adopt the technology. Current 4G LTE is expected to remain the dominant mobile network for the period, peaking in 2022 at 5.4 billion subscriptions, according to the company.
While 5G was initially created to support the internet of things, such as smart home products and connected infrastructure, this year's boom will hinge on consumer mobile data consumption and the demand for faster connections, the Ericsson executive added.
For operators, many of which have started deploying 5G in markets including Europe and China, this could mean a higher average rate of revenue per customer. Ericsson claims that two-thirds of cell carriers are offering 5G at a premium and that half of global consumers are willing to pay 20% extra for the service over current 4G offers.
The launch of cheaper compatible handsets, and midrange phones in particular, will also speed adoption, Jejdling said.
Leading Android smartphone-makers Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. released high-end 5G handsets in 2019, with prices ranging from $800 to over $1,000. Apple Inc. is reportedly launching a 5G iPhone in the fall. Chinese low-cost phone-makers such as Xiaomi Corp. have released cheaper handsets, but these are not currently widely available in the West.
Ericsson also delivered an update on its worldwide 5G equipment agreements at the London event. The company has signed 81 commercial 5G contracts, with its gear present in 24 live 5G networks across the globe. Ericsson has 49 5G "core" network contracts — meaning its equipment is found where voice and data transfers take place.
Rival Nokia recently revealed that it had 63 contracts, while Huawei said it had more than 50 contracts as of November. The latter is banned from doing business in the U.S. over national security concerns. More recently, the United Kingdom opted to restrict Huawei from the core and cap its market share in nonsensitive parts of the network at 35%.
Ericsson said its partners include Verizon Communications Inc. in the U.S., Switzerland's Swisscom AG and China's state-owned operators China Mobile Communications Group Co. Ltd., China Telecom Corp. Ltd. and China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd..
Hours before the event, Ericsson recorded a new top 5G speed for the company of 4.3 Gbps at its lab in Stockholm, Sweden, Jejdling said.
The telecom-equipment manufacturer held the event in London as the industry makes alternative promotion efforts following the cancellation of leading telecom trade show Mobile World Congress due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Ericsson was among the first big-name exhibitors to pull out of the event, originally set to take place in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 24 to Feb. 27, citing health and safety concerns for its employees. Senior Vice President Stella Medlicott described the decision to withdraw as "costly."