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Forecast: 5G connections to top 1bn in 2022

June 16, 2022

Worldwide 5G connections are enjoying a strong pace of growth in 2022, elevating 5G from a nascent to a fledgling technology, reports analyst firm CCS Insight in its latest global market forecast.

After two years of turbulence that saw deployment and expansion of 5G networks disrupted by the pandemic, a clearer path to adoption is now in sight. This is thanks to vast availability of 5G-capable smartphones, refined operator strategies and delayed network launches starting to take place.

“Despite 5G’s foundational years being clouded by the Covid-19 pandemic and the problems it created, the market is in a stronger position as we enter the second half of 2022,” advises James Manning Smith, senior analyst at CCS Insight. “The world still faces a bleak macroeconomic and geopolitical outlook in 2022, coupled with supply chain difficulties. But the transition of mobile subscribers to 5G networks is set to make good progress, with 5G connections forecast to nearly double this year to 1.2 billion,”

Usage of mobile broadband on smartphones, cellular-connected tablets, laptops and other similar devices will account for 99 per cent of 5G connections worldwide in 2022. “5G connectivity has now become a standard feature of premium smartphones and has made a strong push into mid-tier mobile phones,” observes Manning Smith. “With 681 million new phones — 44 per cent of all mobile phone sales in 2022 — expected to have 5G connectivity, a strong base of 5G-ready mobile phones is developing”. This is despite expectations of a weak year for the mobile phone market, hit by supply limitations and falling demand. However, this negative trend is less pronounced in the 5G segment, which is being prioritised by chipset- and phone-makers and sits in the more expensive, higher-margin part of the market where demand remains strong.

By 2026, CCS Insight forecasts 4 billion 5G mobile broadband connections, representing 45 per cent of the worldwide total. In 2026, 5G will be well on its way to becoming a mature technology in advanced markets such as North America and Western Europe. However, a delayed transition in places such as India, the Middle East and Africa will remain evident. Despite some high-tech hubs and pockets of 5G connectivity, overall widespread coverage of these networks in the developing world has a long road ahead.

An associated area also expected to gain a boost in 2022 is fixed wireless access — this provides a cellular-based alternative to fibre or copper line broadband. CCS Insight expects 5G fixed wireless connections will grow 160 per cent in 2022 to 7 million worldwide. “Competition in the fixed wireless segment is heating up, particularly in North America,” notes Manning Smith. “T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T are treating 5G fixed wireless access as an integral part of their 5G strategies and this is already bearing fruit, with T-Mobile reporting over 1 million customers.”

Although 5G fixed wireless access connections will remain small compared with fibre and cable broadband, more and more operators worldwide are looking to 5G to provide high-speed home broadband, without the expense of deploying fibre networks. CCS Insight forecasts these connections are poised to grow, hitting 83 million in 2026.

Machine-to-machine (M2M) and cellular Internet of things (IoT) applications also offer tremendous promise for 5G, especially later in the decade as new 5G IoT devices and applications emerge. A strong rate of growth is expected in 2022, albeit from a small total, as 5G IoT connections reach 9 million by the end of the year. By 2026, CCS Insight expects 455 million 5G M2M and IoT connections, with China leading the way thanks to major investments in manufacturing and other high-tech industries.

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