India will have 130 million 5G users by the end of this year, within just over a year of consumer 5G services being launched in the country. India’s 5G user base has more than tripled from last year—and is expected to rise to 860 million subscribers by 2029, according to the Ericsson Mobility Report 2023 published Thursday.

Last year, Ericsson pegged India’s 5G subscriber base at 31 million users, rising by over 4x in 2023 itself. Going forward, the next six years will see 5G subscribers grow by 6.6x, while 4G subscribers—pegged at 870 million at the end of this year—will drop to 390 million by the end of 2029. As a result, by 2029, 68% of all mobile subscribers in the country will be on the 5G network, Ericsson’s projection said.

Nitin Bansal, head of Ericsson India, said the growth in 5G subscribers, as well as the rise in the number of smartphone users in comparison with the overall mobile phone users, will drive “social and economic inclusion in India.”

In comparison, global 5G subscribers are projected to grow 63% annually to 1.6 billion accounts. By the end of 2029, 5G subscribers are projected to grow to 5.3 billion—India, thus, is expected to account for just over 16% of all 5G users worldwide. At present, India’s 5G subscriber base is at about 8% of all 5G users around the world.

India’s growth in 5G services has been largely powered by Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio. On 27 October, Akash Ambani, chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm, claimed that the operator contributed to “85% of the overall 5G capacity in the country.” Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Airtel’s parent firm, Bharti Enterprises, added that the operator already covers “5,000 districts and 20,000 villages” across India, and aimed to cover all circles of the country by March next year.

Vodafone-Idea, the third of three private telecom operators in the country, also announced at the time that it will “initiate significant investments in order to roll out 5G networks and further expand 4G coverage across the country.”

The expansion of 5G networks in India comes in line with global 5G network expansion. Fredrik Jejdling, executive vice-president and head of networks at Ericsson, said there is an “increasing number of 5G standalone networks being deployed, bringing opportunities to support new and more demanding applications for both consumers and enterprises.”

Industry experts peg 5G devices to be growing consistently in the country. On 7 November, market researcher International Data Corp. (IDC) in India’s quarterly smartphone market report said 5G smartphones contributed to 58% of all shipments to the country in the September quarter. However, most of the growth in 5G smartphone shipments were driven by a surge in demand for premium smartphones priced at around 50,000 or above.

Navkendar Singh, associate vice-president at IDC India told Mint last month that a concerning factor for the overall market is stagnating smartphone sales. “Even if brands succeed in bringing sub- 10,000 5G smartphones, the boost to the smartphone market will not be exponential. However, 5G itself as a sub-category will continue to grow driven by organic demand,” he said.

Ericsson’s year-end report further added that smartphones as a percentage of all mobile phones in the country will grow from 82% this year—to 93% in 2029. By this time, India is projected to have a total of 1.27 billion mobile phones—thereby bringing 1.18 billion smartphones to the country by 2029.

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Updated: 30 Nov 2023, 11:51 PM IST