Ericsson Mobility Report predicts growth in Industrial IoT and private nets

In the latest edition of its Mobility Report, Ericsson points to 5G as the key to facilitating a wide range of services, including smart cities, Industrial IoT, augmented reality, autonomous transport and digital health. Ericsson offers three examples with its own customers, namely MTS (Russia), Telstra (Australia), and Turkcell (Turkey). The full report is available here.

In Q1 2019, Ericsson says there were 7.9bn mobile subscriptions globally, up 44m in the three months. Mobile broadband subs grew 15% year-on-year, reaching 6bn or 76% of total mobile subs. LTE subscriptions grew by 160% in the quarter, reaching 3.7bn or 47% of all mobile subs. GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions fell by 80m in the quarter. Smartphones account for 60% of all mobile phone subscriptions, and mobile subscription penetration is above 100% in every territory except for Africa and India.

Ericsson says that over 10m 5G subscriptions are projected to be active by the end of 2019, and adds that uptake is expected to be significantly faster than LTE. To this end, it projects 1.9bn 5G subs by the end of 2024, accounting for 20% of total mobile subscriptions (8.3bn). LTE will peak in 2022, at around 5.3bn subs, and based on the graph, Ericsson projects that there will still be around 400m 2G subs, and around 1.2bn 3G.

In IoT, Ericsson uses the Cellular IoT umbrella term as a catch-all for Legacy (2G and 3G), Massive IoT (LTE Cat-M and Cat-NB), and what it calls Broadband and Critical IoT (4G and 5G).

The vendor predicts that Legacy connections are going to grow from around 800m in 2019 to hit 1bn in 2022, at which point they will stay flat until 2024. Massive IoT will grow from around 200m in 2019 to around 1.7bn in 2024, with Broadband and Critical growing from around 500m in 2019 to 1.5bn in 2024.

Ericsson stresses that Cat-NB and Cat-M are going to be able to coexist in the same spectrum bands as 5G NR, a similar message to that being pushed by LPWAN chip providers Sequans and u-blox, in their recent announcements (see separate item).

As for scale, Ericsson says that there were around 1bn Cellular IoT connections in 2018, and that there will be 4.1bn by 2024 (CAGR of 27%). It says that ‘Wide Area IoT’ connections are going to grow from 1.4bn to 4.4bn, but that ‘Short Range IoT’ connections will grow from 9.3bn to 17.8bn in the period.

The company is still not giving up on the optimistic idea that 5G can replace wired connections in industrial automation settings, despite the challenge of any industrial environment ripping out Ethernet runs and replacing them with 5G, regardless of what the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) working group might be developing.

Ericsson also touches on 5G coverage in the report, saying that 5G will reach 65% population by 2024. 4G grew by 10% in terms of population coverage, reaching around 75% at the end of 2018 and expected to reach 90% by 2024. 3G is at around 95% now, and is expected to remain that way through the period. There’s no mention of geographic coverage.

Ericsson also looks at the demand for private cellular networks in the report, saying that the two main drivers here are Land Mobile Radio (LMR) modernization, for use cases like public safety and natural resource extraction, and what it labels Industrial Digitalization.

Apart from the comments about U-LPWAN, there is no mention of unlicensed spectrum although Ericsson notes that “a key challenge for these deployments is how to access suitable spectrum when using cellular technologies for private networks. There are three main alternatives: via service providers, direct allocation by regulators to industries, or by using shared licensed spectrum with local allocation. Which option is best will depend on the conditions in each market.”

Another interesting part of the report is that where Ericsson outlines how a computer vision system, attached to a drone, is able to enhance tower inspections and reduce the risk for workers having to climb up and down more frequently.