After the first 5G launches in South Korea, Japan and the US, CCS Insight forecasts China to quickly take the lead with 100 million connections in 2021 and surpass the 1 billion mark in 2025, accounting for 40 per cent of global 5G connections.

The research company raised its near-term forecast for global 5G connections, following rapid progress made by the industry over the past six months. It estimates 5G connections will reach nearly 60 million in 2020 (see chart below, click to enlarge), which is more than 50 per cent higher than it previously forecast in October 2017. It also expects 2.7 billion total connections in 2025.

Kester Mann, principal analyst covering operators at CCS Insight, said: “The industry might be struggling to establish the business models for investment in 5G, but this isn’t stopping leading operators battling for bragging rights to launch the first networks. Competitive forces and the need for capacity are the leading drivers of early deployment, although we caution this could set unrealistic expectations for initial network capability.”

Despite talk of new bandwidth-intensive applications such as autonomous driving and remote healthcare, the company’s forecast shows mobile broadband will represent 98 per cent of all 5G connections in 2025.

This means 5G adoption will be closely linked to handset availability, said Marina Koytcheva, CCS Insight’s VP of forecasting. “We see the first 5G smartphones emerging in 2019, but these will be relatively few in number. The real ramp-up will come in 2021, when over 350 million 5G handsets will be sold worldwide.”