A billion 5G subscriptions by 2023: Ericsson Mobility Report

UAE telcos commit to have 5G infrastructure by 2020

Ericsson and Etisalat jointly trialled 5G capabilities in a real world environment over a live network earlier this year.
Ericsson and Etisalat jointly trialled 5G capabilities in a real world environment over a live network earlier this year.

There will be one billion 5G subscriptions within five years, Ericsson predicts in its Q3 Mobility Report 2017.

Preparations for 5G are gaining momentum and operators are gearing up for commercial launches. The standardisation work plan for 5G has also been accelerated. The standard for 5G is planned to be finalised by mid-2018.

Early 5G deployments are anticipated in several markets, including the US, South Korea, Japan and China. The first commercial networks based on 5G are expected to go live in 2019, with major network deployments from 2020. Both carriers in the UAE, du and Etisalat, have committed to start rolling out 5G networks in 2020.

Within the mobile sector, the total data traffic in mobile networks increased by 65%, Between Q3 2016 and Q3 2017. The number of LTE subscriptions is growing rapidly, and LTE is anticipated to become the dominant mobile access technology by the end of this year and is estimated to reach 5.5 billion subscriptions by the end of 2023. At that point, LTE subscriptions will account for more than 60% of all mobile subscriptions. In developing markets, GSM/EDGE-only will still account for a significant share of subscriptions.

Smartphone penetration will continue to rise, driven by the increasing affordability of devices.  At the end of 2023, 7.3 billion subscriptions associated with smartphones are anticipated.

By the end of 2023, the Middle East and Africa region will transform from a situation where half of all mobile subscriptions are GSM/EDGE-only, to one where 90% of subscriptions are for mobile broadband. Driving factors for this growth include a young and growing population with increasing digital skills, as well as more affordable smartphones.

Mobile data traffic

Mobile data traffic continues to grow. This is driven by increasing smartphone subscriptions and increasing average data volume per subscription, fuelled primarily by more viewing of video content. Mobile video traffic is forecast to grow by around 50 % annually through 2023 to account for 75 % of all mobile data traffic. Social networking is also expected to grow – increasing by 34 % annually over the next 6 years. However, its relative share of traffic will decline from 12 % in 2017 to around 8 % in 2023, as a result of the stronger growth of video.

In the Middle East and Africa region, mobile data traffic is forecast to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 49 %, while mobile subscriptions are expected to grow at a CAGR of 4 % during the period 2017 to 2023. By the end of 2017, GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions will represent almost half of all subscriptions. Despite this, in the Middle East and North Africa, strong growth is forecast for both WCDMA/HSPA and LTE. Combined, these technologies will see a rise from 50 % to over 90 % of total subscriptions by the end of the period, with LTE being the dominant technology.

The first 5G subscriptions in the Middle East and North Africa are expected from 2020, reaching around 17 million subscriptions by the end of 2023.


By 2023, over 30 billion connected devices are forecast, of which around 20 billion will be related to the IoT. Connected IoT devices include connected cars, machines, meters, sensors, point-of-sale terminals, consumer electronics2 and wearables. Between 2017 and 2023, connected IoT devices are expected to increase at a CAGR of 19 %, driven by new use cases and affordability.

At the end of 2017, there will be around 0.5 billion IoT devices with cellular connections. This number is projected to reach 1.8 billion in 2023, or around 75 % of the wide-area category.

5G use cases

The evolution to 5G will enable a range of new use cases. 5G will be particularly beneficial for industrial use cases where AR-based applications will require high data rates and low latency.

Ericsson has highlighted in the report the use of augmented reality-assisted maintenance and repair in the manufacturing industry.

Unplanned interruptions in the manufacturing process drive increased costs, leading to lower utilisation of machinery and product throughput, and extended lead times. Current operational processes create several related challenges. For example, maintenance planning is typically based on inadequate data and much time is spent on information collection and documentation, or on training repair crews to use complex and diverse machinery.

Augmented reality (AR) will help to address these challenges. One example is the use of AR alongside applications supporting data analysis and diagnostics, which will enable preventive and remote maintenance. These measures optimise the cost of operations, while also increasing uptime in the manufacturing process. Depending on the specifics of the use case, AR support will be provided through a range of devices, such as smartphones, tablets, smart helmets, smart gloves and smart glasses.

Repair crews could also be supported by augmented information. For example, operational guidance and automated processes could enable them to more easily carry out preventive and corrective maintenance, with less time spent on fault identification and a reduction in human error.

The role of 5G Many use cases can be addressed by evolved 4G (LTE) networks. As networks evolve further, there will be even more opportunities to enhance existing use cases, as well as to meet the demands of new ones when 5G is implemented.

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