5G use grew worldwide in 2023 despite dismal smartphone market

Allen Hsieh, Taipei; Jack Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0


In 2023 the global economic outlook was uncertain the technology industry is mostly in a downturn with AI representing the only industry not undergoing a downturn,

Despite the pervasively gloomy outlook, the number of 5G users continued to grow against the trend. 5G's growth surpassed previous expectations.

Chou weighs in

David Chou, GM of Ericsson Taiwan, stated that the growth in global 5G users in 2023 was primarily driven by users' strong demand for high-performance mobile networks. Among them, India stands out as the region with the most significant growth.

According to the latest Ericsson Mobile Trend Report, the number of new 5G users in 2023 was around 610 million, a significant growth of 63% compared to 2022 and exceeding initial expectations by approximately 100 million. The total 5G user count worldwide is set to surpass 1.6 billion.

5G resilience

Despite economic challenges and geopolitical uncertainties in some markets, the growth of 5G users showed resilience.

Chou noted that the growth situation of 5G indicates signs of a smartphone recovery. In the third quarter of 2023, global smartphone shipments only saw a 1% YoY decrease.

Since the commercialization of 5G, over 1,000 smartphone models have been launched. In 2023 alone more than 240 models were launched.

In 2023, 5G smartphones accounted for 62% of smartphone shipments. This was up from 57% in 2022.

Over the six years from the end of 2023 to the end of 2029, the global 5G user count is estimated to increase from 1.6 billion to 5.3 billion. This represents a growth rate of over 330%.

North America leads 5G penetration

By the end of 2029, North America and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are projected to achieve a 92% 5G penetration rate. This is the highest globally, followed by Western Europe.

The 5G penetration rate in the Northeast Asia market, including Taiwan, is expected to reach nearly 80%. The region would therefore sit in the upper echelon of 5G penetration globally.

Regarding mobile network data, Chou pointed out that while data volume continued to rise in 2023, the growth rate is slowing down due to the already high base. 5G accounted for 25% of mobile data traffic in 2023.

Notably, the average monthly data usage in 2023 was 21GB globally. However, India, whose 5G commercialization only started in October 2022, saw its average monthly data usage reach 31GB with estimations reaching 75GB for 2029.

Chou explained that the three driving factors for mobile network usage are smartphones, network quality, and content. If all three are present, it will accelerate the development of mobile communication, with India serving as a prime example.

Room for improvement

As for areas where 5G still needs to improve in the future, VP and CTO of Ericsson Taiwan Dan Yao pointed to indoor coverage and mid-frequency deployment. As 80% of the traffic occurs indoors, there is a growing demand for expanding 5G mid-frequency coverage indoors and outdoors to ensure a smooth 5G connectivity experience for users.

Mid-frequency bands in 5G offer both large capacity and good coverage. This makes them an ideal choice for providing a comprehensive 5G experience.

Currently, the mid-frequency band's population coverage rate worldwide is set to exceed 30%, a significant increase from 10% in 2022. The main driving forces behind this are large-scale deployments in India and various deployments in Europe.

Yao pointed out that users spend 90% of their time indoors, and indoor traffic demand per user is 1.5 to 2 times higher than outdoor demand. To achieve an ideal indoor network performance, key locations need to consider comprehensive network deployment plans, including small base stations, to improve coverage and capacity, thereby increasing user satisfaction.

Overall, global 5G development continues to thrive. It has enjoyed growth in both penetration rates and usage volume.

Both device and content developments corresponding to 5G network deployment need to keep up to continue the progress. Fortunately, both aspects seem to be on the right track based on the current situation.