While the global pandemic could have slowed it down, 5G cellular technology is not only continuing its steady march towards ubiquity – it is actually being rolled out much faster than previous generation 4G LTE, according to industry trade organization 5G Americas. As of December 2020, there have been 143 commercial 5G networks, 303 commercially available 5G devices and 229 million 5G subscriptions worldwide, including 225 million last year alone. This means that the adoption of 5G is four times faster than that of 4G Americas, making it the “fastest growing mobile technology in history”.
The fast pace of adoption of 5G is important to tech decision-makers as wireless technology creates the conditions for a massive increase in the amount of data businesses will be processing this decade. 5G networks promise a 10 to 100 times improvement in data speed compared to 4G. This enables devices to share both larger chunks and more continuous streams of data, prompting organizations to use Edge Servers for low-latency computing and serving. Clear recent improvements in global adoption suggest that the time for businesses to embrace 5G is now rather than later.
In addition to consumer applications in smartphones spanning everything from retail and location data to live video and augmented reality feeds, 5G networks will be the channels for wireless industrial automation, connected autonomous vehicles and smart cities. American, Asian, European and Middle Eastern executives have therefore advocated the rapid introduction of 5G in order to accelerate the digitization of their societies and to support the local development of AI-enabled products and services.
In contrast to the previous year, 5G advances are no longer limited to several important countries – adoption is advancing worldwide. In the last quarter alone, 29 new 5G networks went live, and the total number of networks is expected to grow to 180 worldwide by the end of 2020. Similarly, 5G America expects there will be 236 million 5G subscriptions by December 31, the number of subscribers that took 4G LTE four years to achieve. However, the growth is not necessarily uniform on the map.
Only 20 of today’s 5G networks are in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. Those numbers are still dwarfed by 4G LTE, which is currently used on 145 networks in these regions alone. North America had 3.4 million 5G subscriptions, up 47% in the most recent calendar quarter, particularly ending before the popular 5G-compatible iPhone 12 models were released. According to 5G Americas, the latest standard is “just emerging” in Latin America and the Caribbean, with fewer than 5,000 subscriptions in that region – well below previous projections. On the positive side, Brazil has increased the availability of 5G services in urban areas and the 5G spectrum is being made available for expansions in Chile, the Dominican Republic and Peru.
5G expansion has continued rapidly in Asia, where South Korea and China have led the region in terms of speed and breadth of deployment, while some countries in the Middle East have seen impressively fast download rates in smaller geographic areas. European capitals have pushed ahead with their 5G deployments, which has been delayed somewhat as the devices deployed by Chinese network provider Huawei, classified by the US as an international security risk, have to be restricted or ripped out – a claim Huawei has repeatedly denied.