Europe significantly behind in global 5G race, report claims

European continent seen from space with a symbolic net of 5G network connections
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Europe is said to be significantly behind many other regions when it comes to 5G adoption, with many users still reliant on 3G mobile subscriptions.

Today, there are 5.9 billion mobile broadband subscriptions globally, compared to the 7.6 billion global population, according to Ericsson’s new Mobility Report estimates. When it comes to the types of mobile, the report found that, in 2020, North East Asia had nine times more 5G mobile subscriptions than Western Europe – at 9% and 1%, respectively. In Central and Eastern Europe, this was at less than 1%.

North America came as a close second to North East Asia, with 4% of mobile subscriptions being 5G, while the Gulf Cooperation Council countries followed at 2%.

4G remains the dominant cellular network technology for most regions, accounting for 78% of mobile subscriptions in Western Europe, 80% in the Gulf countries, 83% in North East Asia, and 89% in North America. In Central and Eastern Europe, only 50% of subscriptions enable 4G technology, with 36% still reliant on 3G.

Nevertheless, Ericsson’s 20th Mobility Report claims that the 5G future is fast-approaching, being driven by an estimated one million new 5G mobile subscriptions globally every day. The tech giant predicts that, by the end of this year, 5G mobile subscriptions will exceed 580 million, having grown by 70 million during the first quarter of 2021 alone.


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Late last year, the Swedish telecoms company raised its year-end 2020 estimate for global 5G subscriptions to 220 million, of which 175 million - almost 80% - were based in China.

The number of global mobile broadband subscriptions is expected to rise to 6.5 billion by the end of 2026. At the same time, 4G’s popularity in Western Europe is predicted to decline by over a quarter (27%), with over 60 service providers predicted to launch 5G services across the region.

In Central and Eastern Europe, however, 4G is expected to remain the dominant technology in 2026, accounting for 65% of mobile subscriptions – almost twice the percentage of predicted 5G subscriptions, at 33%.

The report also noted that Europe’s 5G lag has been caused by the delayed spectrum auctions in the 700MHz and 3.4–3.8GHz bands, affecting the rollout across the region. This was especially true for the UK, where its spectrum auction originally planned for 2017 finally took place in March 2021.

Sabina Weston

Having only graduated from City University in 2019, Sabina has already demonstrated her abilities as a keen writer and effective journalist. Currently a content writer for Drapers, Sabina spent a number of years writing for ITPro, specialising in networking and telecommunications, as well as charting the efforts of technology companies to improve their inclusion and diversity strategies, a topic close to her heart.

Sabina has also held a number of editorial roles at Harper's Bazaar, Cube Collective, and HighClouds.