Beyond Covid-19, the report analyses underlying trends that are building momentum and shaping the telecom sector outlook. Other trends include network transformation and the shift to open RAN; enterprise digitisation; changes to consumer entertainment consumption from streaming and immersive reality; and the 4G smartphone wave in emerging markets.
“Provided there is a gradual economic recovery in 2021, we expect activity in each of these areas to gather pace,” said Tim Hatt, the GSMA Intelligence’s head of research.
The report found the Covid-19 impact on telecom revenue is primarily concentrated in four areas: roaming, due to a lack of international travel; lower handset upgrades due to retail store closures; challenges in corporate and small- medium-sized enterprise (SME) markets, and general consumer spend pressures, particularly in the prepaid mobile segments.
However, the report added that operators’ resilient mobile and fibre networks have met the demands of increased data traffic, spiking to 50-100 per cent. The increases were driven by home entertainment and work from home communications, such as video and voice calls.
In terms of the 5G rollouts, while 2020 saw some early slowdown in new 5G launches due to the pandemic, activity has recovered; 113 mobile operators have launched a 5G network in 48 countries. The authors forecast operators will spend 80 per cent of sector CAPEX ($890 billion) on 5G networks over the next five years.
The near-term outlook in 2021 depends, to a large extent, on the timing of an economic recovery from the pandemic given pressures on consumer incomes. However, a continued fall in 5G smartphone prices will help; in the GSMA Intelligence’s global consumer trends survey for 2020, 37 per cent of consumers said they intended to upgrade to 5G, compared to 30 per cent in 2019.
The report found there is a challenge for the mobile industry to convince the mass market of 5G’s value compared to 4G. That said, 56 per cent of operators see manufacturing as the highest potential for 5G, serviced with a mix of Internet of Things, cloud and private networks.
Finally, the report said that the timing of 5G also aligns with the availability and commercialisation of open networking technologies, such as Open RAN (Radio Access Network). The report found that 57 per cent of operators intend to introduce new vendors into their network supplier roster.
The GSMA Intelligence “Global Mobile Trends 2021” report is available to download here.