The rollout of 5G will reshape the global telecoms sector in 2020

Image credit: Marko Aliaksandr |

Global mobile subscriptions will grow strongly in 2020, reaching 7.3bn, according to a new report from The Economist Intelligence Unit. Growth will be particularly rapid in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, where mobile penetration will grow by 11% compared with 2019. However, in most regions, the number of fixed lines will continue to decline.

The sole bright spot will be fixed broadband subscriber lines, which will reach nearly 1.1bn in 2020. There are also substantial risks to these forecasts, including the US-China trade war, Brexit and the backlash against Huawei’s dominance.

Matt Kendall, Chief Telecoms Analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, says:

“The global telecoms sector can bank on yet more global growth during 2020, but the challenge will be to make that growth profitable. Most subscribers are unwilling to pay more for extra telecoms services or faster speeds. Operators will try to come up with compelling use cases, but many of them are likely to have cut costs during 2020 in order to improve their average revenue per user.”

The main points included:

  • Global mobile penetration will rise rapidly in 2020, but broadband expansion will be slower while fixed lines will fall.
  • The rollout of 5G will gather pace, but operators will struggle to provide these services profitably.
  • The dominance of China’s Huawei in providing vital 5G hardware will remain a sore point.

Investment in 5G and fibre fixed-line services is likely to be a top priority for operators in 2020, but they will face challenges. The rollout will require a co-ordinated approach between regulators, governments and operators, to ensure that spectrum is released on time and at affordable prices. Even so, telecoms companies will find it hard to monetise 5G technology. Among consumers, only tech-savvy early adopters will be willing to pay a premium, so operators need to persuade businesses that 5G can revolutionise the way they operate. That will not happen in 2020. 

You can download the full report here.

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