5G 2021 Outlook

Covid-19 has isolated us at home, making connectivity a basic necessity. While the 5G roll-out continued in 2020, its pace and scope was affected by the pandemic and this could continue in the first part of 2021. However, deeper trends which support progress towards 5G remain, and many are even magnified by the impact of Covid-19.

The Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), the industry’s trade body that represents operators and vendors, reported a negative impact of 4-8% in telecoms revenues in 2020.1 While this was half the overall impact of the pandemic on developed economies, last year did see some high street shop closures, lower consumer spending levels and slower uptake of new products in the mobile technology sector.

However, points of strength for the 5G space that were observable in 2020, reveal the potential for continued expansion and development in 2021. Indeed GSMA notes that 113 mobile operators have launched a 5G network in 48 countries. It believes operators will spend $890 billion on 5G networks over the next five years and that consumer adoption of 5G will reach 20% of global mobile connections by 2025.2 A TIRIAS study has noted the continued momentum toward remote learning, work and entertainment, clearly augmented by the impact of social distancing and closures. The ongoing relevance of the gaming sector promotes growth in consumer and enterprise electronics, in addition to servers, networking gear and cloud services.3

2021 will likely see the normalization of the work from home paradigm, with its dependence on smooth communication, data sharing and security and remote collaboration. In conjunction, the continued expansion of the Cloud is expected to facilitate new work and business models. According to a Statista report, cloud-dependent Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) revenue is expected to increase from $0.7 billion in 2012 to $47.8 billion by 2026. 5G will also support the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), whose role and efficacy has been well tested in the pandemic with remote operation of machinery and data collection and monitoring of health indicators via sensors.

1“2021: it will be the year of 5G, all over again,” Alan Burkitt-Gray, 21 December 2020 https://www.capacitymedia.com/articles/3827290/2021-it-will-be-the-year-of-5g-all-over-again 

2 ““5G roll-outs to continue apace in 2021,” Aaron Tan, December 21, 2020 https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252493941/5G-roll-outs-to-continue-apace-in-2021

3“Tirias Research Predicts A Healthy But Cautious Outlook For Tech In 2021,” Jim McGregor, Dec 31, 2020 https://www.forbes.com/sites/tiriasresearch/2021/12/31/tirias-research-predicts-a-healthy-but-cautious-outlook-for-tech-in-2021/?sh=224e05ad7a48

4“Outlook 2021: Acceleration of pandemic-driven technology trends,” L Ravichandran https://www.techcircle.in/2021/01/04/outlook-2021-acceleration-of-pandemic-driven-technology-trends