A new report from the Global System for Mobile Communications, also known as GSMA, found that 5G is available in 24 markets around the world and is expected to contribute almost $2.2 trillion to the global economy between 2024 and 2034.

GSMA represents about 750 mobile operators and hundreds of companies involved in the telecoms industry. The study, written by GSMA Intelligence, GSMA’s research arm, found that while 5G’s adoption has been slow, it will eventually provide a broad range of benefits to enterprises of all sizes and citizens of almost every country.

GSMA’s head of North America, Ana Tavares Lattibeaudiere, said that by 2025, GSMA expects 5G to account for 20% of all connections around the globe as operators invest more than $1 trillion into worldwide networks over the next five years.

The study estimates that 5G technologies will add particular value to the manufacturing and financial services industries as well as the growing IoT market, which will reach 13.3 billion enterprise connections by 2025.

While consumer interest in 5G is still nascent in most countries, nations like China and South Korea have notably high levels of excitement among citizens in relation to the adoption of 5G devices and systems. Of those surveyed, 72% of people who already knew about 5G were interested in it because of improved mobile data speeds and the study suggested operators in countries like the United States should make that a focus of marketing campaigns.

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

Some of the main barriers to 5G’s widespread adoption are related to cost and technology maturity. But as with 4G and wider mobile broadband coverage, these problems will fade over the years. GSMA researchers wrote that the mobile broadband coverage gap fell from 18% to 9% between 2015 and 2019, meaning about one billion people gained coverage.

“With this growth in connectivity, individuals are increasingly using mobile to access an array of life-enhancing services that contribute to and catalyse the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, the mobile industry is playing a key role in mitigating the catastrophic impacts of climate change, which threatens sustainable development everywhere,” the report said.

“However, much more can be done to leverage the power of mobile and support the delivery of the SDG 2030 targets. This includes helping people realise the full benefits of accessing health information, public services and digital payments, and leveraging new technologies to reduce pollution, improve resilience to climate change and increase energy efficiency.”

There are still major issues for lower and middle income countries when it comes to the adoption of 5G and even 4G including affordability, consumer readiness and locally relevant uses or content that will push people to adopt the mobile internet.

The in-depth report covers dozens of insights gleaned by companies as 5G was rolled out in a number of countries including key lessons about how the technology will affect worldwide economies and specific industries.

GSMA represents hundreds of companies that are involved in everything from handsets and devices to software, equipment and internet providers themselves. The data in the report covers every operator group and network in every country worldwide – including information from leading operators, vendors, regulators, financial institutions and third-party industry players.

The study found that total mobile revenue was more than $1 trillion in 2019 and GSMA researchers expect that figure to rise by about 1% each year due to the wider adoption of IoT devices and 5G technology.

A graph showing the potential increase of IoT devices worldwide.
Image: GSMA

More than five billion people were subscribed to mobile services by the end of 2019, meaning nearly 70% of the world’s population is now online. The report expects about 600 million new subscribers by 2025 hailing from places like India, Nigeria, Pakistan and China, which will bring mobile service subscriber numbers up to 5.8 billion. In 2019 alone, more than 250 million people were connected to the mobile internet for the first time.

There were eight billion SIM connections in 2019 and the report expects it to reach 8.8 billion by 2025. The number of IoT connections is also expected to increase rapidly from 12 billion this year to 24.5 billion by 2025.

Globally, mobile technology and related services generated an estimated $4.1 trillion in economic value in 2019 and the GSMA report states that the value will increase to $5 trillion by 2024.

While 5G is getting most of the press, 4G is still a dominant force worldwide, and is now responsible for more than four billion connections, representing about half of all total connections. The report estimates that 4G will peak in the next few years at about 60% of all connections across the world as 5G increases the number of markets where it is available.

One of the other issues holding 5G back is access to sufficient radio spectrum particularly in the sub-1 GHz coverage bands and prime 5G mid- and mmWave bands.

“With key spectrum (26 GHz and 40 GHz) secured for mobile at the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), a global ecosystem can now begin to develop equipment, devices and services that take advantage of these frequencies. However, governments and regulators should avoid inflating 5G spectrum prices (e.g. setting high auction reserve prices) or setting aside spectrum (e.g. for vertical industries) that has been identified for mobile,” the report noted.

A graph showing the penetration of 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G in North America and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Image: GSMA

The study includes informative charts of each region that show how each has adopted 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. In addition to the 24 markets worldwide where mobile 5G is now commercially available, 79 operators in 39 markets have announced plans to launch mobile services. The report expects huge gains in 5G within Europe, China and North America while 4G will continue to dominate in the Asia-Pacific region as well as Latin America and the Middle East.

Much of Sub-Saharan Africa will still be reliant on 3G by 2025, but the report expects smartphone connections in the region to double by that year as adoption, affordability and availability of high-speed network services increases. By the end of 2019, the report found that 670 million people remain outside of mobile broadband coverage, 40% of which live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Enterprises have been slow to adopt 5G, with many believing 4G was good enough to handle the things they need, according to the study. But as more companies adopt IoT devices, interest in 5G is sure to increase.

“Manufacturing companies are adopting robots, AI, sensors and a range of industrial IoT solutions to automate and monitor production. In many cases, these depend on low-latency connectivity for precision thresholds and real-time analytics, which will likely require edge-computing infrastructure,” the report said.

“The ultimate goal for smart manufacturing would be an autonomously controlled factory. An early template of such a design can be seen with the Changying Precision Technology Company in China, which automated 90% of its production line, and, more recently, in a satellite production facility in Florida jointly owned by OneWeb and Airbus.”

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