5G takeover: The next-gen network will cover 65% of the global population by 2025

5G networks are predicted to carry 45% of global mobile traffic in 2025--a 10% increase from what was forecasted for 2024 in June.

Separating the hype from reality in initial 5G mobile networks and smartphones James Sanders and Karen Roby discuss the immediate future of 5G mobile networks and smartphones, and how existing equipment cannot be updated to 5G via software updates.

Mobile subscriptions are increasing with the release of 5G, according to an Ericsson report on Monday. A total of 13 million 5G subscriptions are expected to exist by the end of 2019. And by 2025, 5G networks will support nearly half of the world's mobile data traffic, with the potential to cover up to 65% of the world's population in 2025, the report found.

The Ericsson Mobility Report explored the effects 5G will have on mobile data usage and traffic. With its promise of faster speeds and more reliable mobile networks, 5G will have a large impact on smartphone users, and Internet of Things (IoT) device users, in the coming years, the report found. 

SEE: 5G mobile networks: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

"If you look at all previous generations of mobile technology, they've changed people's lives," said Peter Linder, 5G evangelist and head of 5G marketing at Ericsson. "1G came, an example of that was when salespersons all of a sudden had a phone in their car so they could call in orders when they were out traveling. 2G moved phones into people's pockets, and we could start sending text messages to each other." 

With 3G, phones began working everywhere, not being limited to a certain region. 4G brought the entire smartphone app economy. When we get to 5G, that's the first mobile generation that's designed for both consumers, businesses, and municipalities. "It's going to connect a big portion of the economy going forward," Linder said.

The current mobile economy is already booming: Q3 2019 hosted 8 billion total mobile subscriptions, with 61 million subscriptions added during the quarter. Leading the way in mobile subscriptions was China, which added 14 million in Q3, the report found.

4G (LTE) increased by 190 million during the quarter, and now accounts for 52% of all mobile subscriptions. Mobile broadband subscriptions also saw a significant increase, reaching 6.2 billion. 

When looking at mobile subscriptions, "what we're measuring is, for example, if you and I have two phones with two different SIM cards, that is counting as two subscriptions," Linder said. "We have the phenomena of people using more than one smartphone on a daily basis, and they typically have it as two devices today rather than two SIMs in one device."

As we connect more IoT devices and cars to this network, subscriptions will continue increasing, Linder added. And with 2020 on the horizon 5G subscriptions will gain ground, according to the report. 

5G mobile subscriptions outlook 

With more service providers moving toward 5G, and more 5G devices becoming available, 5G subscriptions have started growing and will explode in the next five years, the report found. 

A 5G subscription update is expected to be faster than LTE, with a key factor being China's earlier involvement in 5G compared to LTE. A total of 13 million 5G subscriptions are expected by the end of 2019, with most of these subscriptions coming from China, the report found. 

The report also predicted that by 2025 there will be 2.6 billion 5G subscriptions globally, accounting for nearly 30% of all mobile subscriptions. Despite the increase in 5G subscriptions, LTE will also remain a prominent mobile access technology by subscriptions, according to the report. 

"4G is going to be the technology with universal nationwide coverage for quite some time," Linder said. "All previous generations—when we went from 2G to 3G, and 3G to 4G—we took the same towers, we put [the new] G in every tower, and we turned on the network. We had more or less the same 4G coverage as we had 3G coverage.

"When we move to 5G, we're going to put it in pockets and areas where it's really needed, especially if we're talking about the most powerful versions of 5G," Linder continued. "You're not going to get to 5G universal coverage as quick as we've been getting it with the previous generations. Because for 5G, we don't only focus on lighting up 5G in the towers that we have. We have an equal focus, in the US, of adding three times or four times as many small cells as we have cell towers."

An example of this concept is with transportation. "In the beginning [of transportation], we had buses and cars pretty much everywhere. We had buses and cars in the countryside, we had buses and cars in the city, but then when the traffic became too heavy in the cities, we created subways," Linder said. "That doesn't mean that we build subways across the whole country, and 5G is more; let's go in and create really strong boosts of capacity, but inside of pockets."

Mobile traffic growth 

However, with more subscriptions will come more mobile traffic, the report found. 

Between Q3 2018 and Q3 2019, mobile data traffic grew 68%. By 2025, mobile traffic is expected to grow by 27% annually, with video accounting for nearly 76% of mobile data per month, according to the report. 

"The increase of usage is the shift in moving from text and picture-centric things to visual-centric things," Linder said. "If I find an article or a manual online, and I read the manual, those data bits don't consume a whole lot of traffic. But if my daughter [is] using YouTube, and she's streaming video down to her phone, that's just consuming significantly more bandwidth. As visual is surging, so is traffic."

The report predicts that by 2025, 45% of the total mobile data traffic will be carried by 5G networks. Contributing to more than 50% of cellular IoT connections will be narrow band IoT (NB-IoT) and Cat-M1 networks, the report found. 

"When 4G was introduced, there were four networks launched in the first year. When 5G was introduced, 30 networks were launched in the first six months," Linder said. 

The report revealed that the road to 5G is explosive in and of itself, but the next five years will host even more growth. 

For more, check out What is 5G? The business guide to next-generation wireless technology on ZDNet.

Also see 

5G Network Internet Mobile Wireless Business concept.5G standard of modern signal transmission technology.

Image: iStockphoto/LHG