By the end of 2021, 5G subscriptions are expected to reach 580 million, according to the latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report. This trend shows that 5G subscription uptake is expected to be faster than that of 4G following its launch in 2009, as 5G subscriptions are estimated to reach 1 billion two years earlier than 4G.
Despite the uncertainty caused by Covid-19, service providers continue to switch on 5G and more than 160 have launched commercial 5G services. Moreover, 5G subscriptions with a 5G-capable device grew by 70 million during the first quarter, to reach around 290 million.
In terms of geography, currently North East Asia has the highest 5G subscription penetration, followed by North America, Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Western Europe. In 2026, it is projected that North America will have the highest share of 5G subscriptions of all regions at 84%.
Key factors for 5G’s growth include China’s earlier engagement with 5G compared to 4G, as well as the timely availability of devices from several vendors. By the end of 2026, Ericsson forecasts 3.5 billion 5G subscriptions globally, accounting for around 40% of all mobile subscriptions at that time.
However, 4G will remain the dominant mobile access technology by subscription over the forecast period. In fact, during the first quarter of 2021, 4G subscriptions increased by approximately 100 million, exceeding 4.6 billion, equaling 58% of all mobile subscriptions. It is projected to peak during the year at 4.8 billion subscriptions before declining to around 3.9 billion subscriptions by the end of 2026, as more subscribers migrate to 5G.