The global switch to 5G is well underway, with the number of connections to the next-generation network set to reach 1.34 billion in 2022, says a new report.
According to an analysis by market researcher CCS Insight, this year has seen connections to 5G triple to 637 million, suggesting that the roll-out of the network is continuing apace.
National lockdowns caused by the global health crisis in 2020 slowed network rollout, for example making it more difficult to send engineers on the ground to physically build the infrastructure, ZDNet reported.
CCS Insight noted that geopolitical tensions related to Huawei’s role in 5G rollouts led to delays, especially in western Europe.
European countries were effectively hesitant to allow Huawei to provide critical infrastructure for their 5G networks after the Trump administration in the US raised concerns that the company might pose a security risk due to its ties with the Chinese government.
“The US being one country, the decisions were made relatively quickly while in Europe every country had to make its own decision as to what to do with Huawei,” Marina Koytcheva, Vice-President of forecasting at CCS Insight, told the tech website.
“In some countries, operators had to wait a little bit to see whether they’d be allowed to use Huawei equipment and in which part of the network. That was probably an even more significant delaying factor than Covid-19 in 2020,” Koytcheva added.
Although the speed of rollout is improving in western Europe, this relatively gradual start means that 5G won’t account for more than half of cellular device connections in the region until 2024, predicts Koytcheva.
Different regions are switching to 5G at different pace, but the trend across western Europe, north America, China and other advanced markets in Asia remains the same — operators have now largely committed to upgrading from 4G, and are rapidly getting on with the builds.
One of the key reasons that deployment is accelerating is that consumers are now buying devices that are 5G-enabled in 2021, CCS Insight expects 560 million 5G-capable smartphones to sell.
In a turning point for the industry, Apple released its first 5G-equipped iPhone at the end of 2020, which triggered a “smartphone supercycle” that saw many users replace their devices.
After a huge dip in sales, smartphones have now started selling again with the second quarter of 2021 seeing a 10.8 per cent increase in shipments year-on-year.
Previous analysis by IDC predicted that 5G device shipments will increase by 123 per cent in 2021 as compared to 2020 and that by 2022, they will make up more than half of all smartphone shipments.