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5G – Thematic Research

After years of anticipation, most of the world’s largest operators have deployed 5G networks. 2020 saw a growing number of 5G commercial launches worldwide, with more than 400 million 5G subscriptions active by the end of the year. COVID-19 has had some impact on infrastructure rollouts and, more crucially, on spectrum auctions in several markets. Despite this, growth will accelerate in the coming years, supported by increased spectrum availability and operator investment in network rollouts, with 3 billion subscribers by 2025. The availability of affordable handsets will be key to driving adoption, particularly considering strong economic headwinds caused by COVID-19 affecting consumer income.


This report provides an overview of the 5G theme.

It identifies the key trends impacting growth of the theme over the next 12 to 24 months, split into three categories: technology trends, macroeconomic trends, and regulatory trends.

It includes a comprehensive industry analysis, including forecasts for 5G subscriptions, penetration, and service revenue to 2025.

The overview of 5G’s capabilities includes use cases for both consumers and enterprises.

Key Highlights

For the short term, at least, 5G will remain primarily a consumer play with the focus on higher network speeds. Fixed wireless access (FWA) is seeing wider deployments, in large part as a response to the new work from home realities of COVID-19. Enterprise adoption is more early stage, with a localized focus on campus deployments where 5G will sit alongside 4G and Wi-Fi connectivity.

At the end of January 2021, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) estimated that 144 operators in 61 countries had launched one or more 3GPP-compliant 5G services. The 5G era is underway. That said, COVID-19 threatens to impact the pace of 5G deployment for some operators. While social distancing measures imposed by most governments during the peak of the pandemic mainly generated temporary interruptions in the rollout of 5G infrastructure, the delay of 5G spectrum auctions in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Canada, India, Spain, France, and India, originally scheduled for 2020, could have a greater impact on the expansion of mobile 5G in the short and medium-term. While several governments plan to resume spectrum allocation processes during 2021, the prospect of fresh COVID -19 waves in 2021 could force regulators to further postpone spectrum tenders.

Mobile 5G services generated $4.5bn globally in 2019, representing 0.6% of total mobile service revenue worldwide. This rose to $43.1bn in 2020, equivalent to more than 5% of total mobile service revenue. About 71% of 2020 revenue came from Asia-Pacific, with North America accounting for 18%. Europe 8%, and Africa and the Middle East 3%. In 2021, GlobalData forecasts that mobile 5G service revenue will total $105.9bn, or 12.5% of total mobile service revenue, with Asia-Pacific still responsible for the lion’s share (65%).

5G fixed wireless – not captured in the mobile 5G forecasts presented in this report – was one of the first use cases for 5G technology in North America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe. It targeted areas with low fiber to the building (FTTH/B) coverage, particularly in advanced markets, where very high-frequency bands (e.g., 28 GHz) and extensive fiber backhaul access were available. This strategy was adopted by several operators worldwide, such as Verizon in the US and Optus in Australia. GlobalData, however, expects a far larger revenue opportunity for 5G through 2025 to come with the roll-out of 5G mobile services. By 2025, we expect mobile 5G services will generate $483.5bn, or 47.1% of total mobile service revenue worldwide.

Reasons to Buy

5G will be one of the most disruptive technology themes of the next decade. This report is a clear, concise guide to 5G, including an overview of its key capabilities and details of the companies that are leading the way.

It highlights the key capabilities of 5G, including the areas in which it offers significant performance improvements compared to 4G.

The report also contains 5G use cases for both consumers (including faster download speeds and fixed wireless access) and enterprises (including support the Industrial Internet and enabling remote working).

It includes analysis of the competitive positioning in the 5G theme of leading telecoms operators and infrastructure suppliers.

Companies Mentioned

SK Telecom


LG Uplus

T-Mobile US



China Mobile

China Telecom

China Unicom

T-Mobile Germany

Vodafone Germany


Softbank Japan



Vodafone UK





Samsung Electronics





China Broadcasting

O2 Germany

Rakuten Mobile


3 UK

Dish Networks








Table of Contents

Executive summary


Technology briefing


Industry analysis

5G capabilities and use cases


Sector scorecards


Further reading

Thematic methodology


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