Is the world ready for a 5G data tsunami?

29 Nov 2017

The planet’s smartphone population is burgeoning. Image: frantic00/Shutterstock

4G LTE dominates now but 5G is predicted to serve 20pc of the world’s population in the coming years.

By 2023, there will be more than 1bn 5G subscriptions for enhanced broadband across the planet.

Mobile network equipment giant Ericsson has predicted in its latest Mobility Report that 5G will cover 20pc of the world’s population at that point.

While the standard for 5G has not yet officially been defined, what Ericsson sees as 5G will involve the first New Radio (NR) commercial networks going live in 2019, with major deployments taking place from 2020.

Early 5G deployments are foreseen in several markets, including the US, South Korea, Japan and China.

LTE currently dominates

By the end of this year, the 4G standard LTE will be the dominant mobile access technology.

It is estimated that it will reach 5.5bn subscriptions and cover more than 85pc of the world’s population by the end of 2023.

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) has been launched in more than 125 networks in more than 60 countries across all regions. VoLTE subscriptions are projected to reach 5.5bn by the end of 2023, accounting for more than 80pc of the combined LTE and 5G subscriptions.

Smartwatches are one of the latest devices to use VoLTE. Users are able to make voice calls directly on their smartwatch, without having a smartphone nearby (multi-SIM). Calls can also be transferred between a user’s smartphone and watch.

5G data explosion

However, with the onset of 5G from 2019 onwards, mobile data traffic is expected to surge by eight times during the forecast period, reaching 110 exabytes per month by 2023. This is the equivalent of 3.5m years of HD video streaming.

North America is currently showing the highest average usage per smartphone, exceeding 7GB per month by the end of 2017.

Video consumption continues to fuel mobile broadband traffic growth. The driving force behind video’s uptrend is millennials, who stream 2.5 times more than those over 45 years of age.

Streaming video in higher resolutions and an emerging trend of increased streaming of immersive video formats, such as 360-degree video, will have an impact on data traffic consumption volumes. For example, a YouTube 360-degree video uses four to five times as much bandwidth as a normal YouTube video of the same perceived quality.

“The latest report highlights trends in mobile subscription and data traffic growth, as well as the industry’s effort to tackle the increasing demands on mobile networks globally,” said chief strategy officer Niklas Heuveldop, head of technology and emerging business at Ericsson.

“In addition, the report examines the emergence of new use cases as network capabilities evolve – smartwatches, IoT alarms, and augmented reality-assisted maintenance and repair, to name a few. As we prepare for 5G, these trends will continue to set the agenda for the mobile industry going forward.”

The planet’s smartphone population is burgeoning. Image: Frantic00/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years