5G connections set to top one billion by 2023

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There will be over a billion 5G connections by 2023, according to IDC’s first ever forecast for worldwide subscriptions.

Commercial 5G networks are already live in the UK, US, Europe and Asia, with more set to come online in 2020.  It is predicted that subscription levels will reach 10 million before the end of 2019 before expanding significantly over the coming years.

IDC believes there will be an annual growth rate of 217.2 per cent in the lead up to 2023, at which point 5G will account for 8.9 per cent of all mobile device connections.

5G connections

The drivers behind this growth are unsurprising. IDC believes increasing data demand from consumers, the growth of the Internet of Things, and faster speeds will all create demand for next generation networks.

However analysts warn that mobile operators must do more than just build infrastructure. They say providers must develop applications that harness the power of 5G and collaborate with developers and the wider tech ecosystem.

“While there is a lot to be excited about with 5G, and there are impressive early success stories to fuel that enthusiasm, the road to realizing the full potential of 5G beyond enhanced mobile broadband is a longer-term endeavour, with a great deal of work yet to be done on standards, regulations, and spectrum allocations,” said Jason Leigh, research manager for Mobility at IDC.

“Despite the fact that many of the more futuristic use cases involving 5G remain three to five years from commercial scale, mobile subscribers will be drawn to 5G for video streaming, mobile gaming, and AR/VR applications in the near term.”

Separate research from IDC suggests 5G networks will enable the smartphone market to return to growth. Analysts believe shipments will increase by 1.5 per cent to 1.4 billion this year, with 5G smartphones totalling 190 million. This would represent 14 per cent of all shipments, significantly more than the 1.3 per cent share recorded for the first year of 4G shipments in 2010.

After several years of massive growth during the early part of the decade, sales have slowed in recent years due to a number of factors. Market saturation, higher prices, and a perceived lack of innovation have led to consumers holding onto their handsets for longer.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.