Deliver 5G to 48 million North Americans by 2021.

September 30, 2020 |

Challenge accepted.

There is always a bit of a lag between the network roll-out for each new mobile generation, and the availability of devices on that network. That lag is quickly being erased in North America, and at Ericsson, we are looking forward to an exciting ramp-up with an expectation of 48 million subscriptions by the end of 2021.

48 million 5G subscriptions projected by 2021

Ericsson presented an update to the Ericsson Mobility Report in June, with a projection of 11 million subscribers in 2020, despite the pandemic’s impact, and a goal of reaching 48 million by 2021

These subscriptions, close to 13% of the US and Canada population, represent early adopters. The good news is that consumers are wanting to be early in embracing the next technology.

Professionals also want to take advantage of 5G as early as possible. With 5G becoming available from all major smartphone brands this fall, the last entry barrier has fallen and they are eager to invest in their first 5G smartphone.

For more information you can access our database for customized graphs, along with other 5G trends and statistics, on The Ericsson Mobility Visualizer.

A vibrant device ecosystem 

What makes 5G unique compared to 4G is the vibrant ecosystem we see early in the deployment cycle. This September, the Global Mobile Supplier Association (GSA) reported 401 announced and 190 available 5G devices in 18 different form factors — less than two years after the first 5G networks were launched. This solid confidence in 5G by the device industry plays a crucial role in enabling rapid adoption.

Slightly less than half of the announced devices are smartphones (181 out of 401), ready to enhance the mobile broadband experience. Obviously 5G will play a key role in the smartphone replacement cycle which will help shape the upcoming holiday season. This demand may not necessarily be driven by everybody knowing what to expect from 5G — more likely they’re being driven by curiosity after all the buzz that has been created in the last 24 months. Beyond smartphones, there are 220 announced devices in 17 other form factors. This device diversity allows for incremental use case categories to develop earlier than previous generations.

Differentiated 5G experiences in three types of bands 

5G in North America is unique in the sense that experiences are available in all three spectrum types: 5G in low-band for exceptional reach and coverage, with reduced latency as an essential differentiator; 5G in the mid-band for phenomenal capacity in urban areas and along major highways; 5G in the high-band for revolutionary creativity when it comes to speed and latency.

In the 4G era, we talked about users, use-cases, and how to monetize use. When it comes to 5G, there are new opportunities to change the game and focus on customers, the experience, and business model innovation beyond downstream traffic volumes. These three parameters will play a key role in determining the winning service providers for 5G.

Front runners captured all growth for 4G 

Ericsson has been tracking what made mobile operators successful with 4G as part of our growth code initiative. Out of the 287 service providers we have been following, only 49 meet the criteria as frontrunners. These front runners have enjoyed growth at 8.5% CAGR since 2014, as the larger group of service providers have declined by 1.95% CAGR.

This fundamental difference in growth has strong connections to how well service providers captured and served early adopters. This lesson is well understood in the industry and is one of the fundamental reasons everyone strives to gain first-mover advantages for enhanced Mobile Broadband.

Outlook for 5G in North America 2021

I am excited about what we have ahead of us and what we, as an industry, can deliver to the first 48 million 5G subscribers in North America. By the end of next year, I expect to see:

Customer experience-focused marketing of 5G services to consumers, making the enhanced part of enhanced Mobile Broadband something very tangible

A rapid and robust adoption cycle of 5G smartphones creating a pull for network performance and application development, with the potential to be stronger than anything we saw for 4G.

A significant reduction in the lag from our first to our second 5G devices, with businesses leading the way for personal productivity gains and advanced industrial applications.  

The rapid adoption of 5G and access to early adopters on home turf is critical for all stakeholders in the broader mobile ecosystem who want to transform their 4G success into 5G success. It’s setting up to be a race where you can’t afford to be late out of the blocks.

If you’re like the rest of Americans, and you’re getting caught up in all the excitement of 5G, spend some time thinking about what your next 5G device will be, and if you can wait beyond Christmas to get it.

Peter Linder

Peter Linder is a 5G evangelist and Head of 5G Marketing for Ericsson in North America. Two bullet trains, anything in 5G, or digital marketing, are the best way to describe his professional focus.  Oanalytica ranks him as the #1 most influential experts across all topics in the tech sector on LinkedIn. He aspires to make you see 5G with 2020 vision and grok 5G to maximize the impact you have for 5G in your company.


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