Global 5G connections set to break the billion mark next year

5G global network connection

5G connections will reach well over 1 billion next year, despite the threat of component shortages hitting the supply chain this Christmas, according to new analyst forecasts.

Connections will triple this year to 637 million, before more than doubling in 2022 to 1.34 billion, CCS Insight predicts, its data showing that China will continue to lead the way – in volume terms, at least – for the next few years.

The data comes in the wake of the publication of nine-month numbers from two of China’s three mobile operators. Those figures add credence to the analyst firm’s views on the high proportion of the world’s 5G connections that will originate in China over the coming years (see chart). However, when it comes to market penetration, China is not in the lead, despite being “an early trailblazer for 5G,” it notes.

South Korea is ahead of the pack, with 5G set to account for 30% of mobile connections by the end of this year. CCS Insight predicts that the US will leap ahead of China on the back of strong smartphone sales in the run-up to Christmas, giving it 25% 5G penetration to China’s 24%, the latter hit by shaky demand for smartphones this year.

It’s interesting that CCS believes that holiday season demand will help push the US ahead of China, given that it also sounds a note of caution over device shortages at the back end of this year.

The risk of supply problems for high-end devices, including the iPhone, remains during the Christmas quarter, the firm says. The knock-on effect is that there could be an impact – albeit a temporary one – on 5G adoption.

However, the analyst firm is sticking by its longer-term forecasts for 5G, noting that the speed at which people adopt 5G will of course depend on their willingness to buy 5G-capable devices.

“Things are looking up on that front; the global mobile phone market is projected to recover in 2022, and prices of 5G handsets continue to fall steadily,” said Marina Koytcheva, vice president of forecasting at CCS Insight. “Our forecast for 3.6 billion 5G connections worldwide by 2025 is still firmly on track,” she said.

Western Europe will not be a big driver of that growth.

At present it still lags other markets, “limited by delayed spectrum auctions in some countries, slow government decision-making about the role of Huawei, and weakened demand for mobile phones amid the pandemic,” CCS Insight notes. The speed of 5G rollout is improving, but the slow start, relatively speaking, means that 5G will not account for more than half of cellular device connections in the region until 2024, it predicts.

Nonetheless, CCS Insight’s figures paint a pretty rosy picture of 5G development over the coming years, particularly considering it is being rolled out against a challenging backdrop, namely the Covid-19 pandemic, the broader macroeconomic climate, and concerns about Huawei and other Chinese vendors in some major global markets.

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