The 3GPP’s acceleration of the 5G New Radio (NR) standard will lead to more 5G subscribers faster. Ericsson’s 2017 Mobility Report predicts that by 2022 there will be 500 million 5G subscribers globally and 125 million of those will be in North America. Asia-Pacific will be next in line with about 10 percent of the 5G subscribers, or about 50 million, according to Ericsson.
The 500 million 5G subscribers by 2022 figure is a substantial increase from the 2016 Ericsson Mobility Report that was released one year ago. At that time Ericsson predicted there would be 150 million 5G subscribers by 2021.
“We started thinking that 2020 would be the beginning of 5G. Now we are thinking that it will happen in 2018. Smartphones and tablets will be coming to the market in 2019,” said Glenn Laxdal, head of network products at Ericsson North America.
The 2017 Ericsson report also predicts that by 2022, about 15 percent of the world’s population will be covered by 5G. However, it added that 5G will initially be deployed in major metro areas and then spread to smaller cities, similar to how 4G LTE coverage has spread.
Laxdal added that software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) will be a key enabler of 5G because without the virtualization of the network, operators will not be able to allocate resources for different 5G use cases. “We see SDN and NFV as key enablers for 5G,” Laxdal said. “By creating a virtualized network, operators will enable the network to scale dynamically. SDN and NFV are key building blocks.”
IoT’s Skyrocketing Connections
There will be about 29 billion connected devices by 2022, and of those, 18 billion will be Internet of Things (IoT) devices, according to the Ericsson report. Ericsson defines IoT devices as both short-range and wide-area connections.
At the end of 2016 there were around 400,000 IoT devices with cellular connections. That number is expected to reach 1.5 billion by 2022, and make up about 70 percent of the wide-area IoT device category.
Ericsson says the reason for the strong growth in cellular IoT devices is that the industry has been focused on 3GPP standardization of IoT technologies. The first cellular networks supporting massive IoT applications are those based on LTE CAT-M (also known at CAT-M1 or LTE-M) technology.
In March, Verizon announced its LTE CAT-M IoT network was available nationwide and covered 2.4 million square miles in the U.S. In May, AT&T said its LTE CAT-M network was available nationwide. The company also said it will extend its LTE CAT-M network to Mexico by year-end.
In North America, there were an estimated 67 million cellular IoT connections at the end of 2016, according to Ericsson. The company expects that number to increase by more than 200 percent to 213 million connections by 2022.