Saturday 15 August 2020

How many 5G Cell Towers & Base Stations Worldwide?

A question I often see people ask is how many cell towers / base stations are there worldwide? Surprisingly this information is not as easy to obtain as you may think initially. We can use this chart from a Light Reading webinar as a starting point:

Many years back someone explained a rule of thumb to me. There is on an average 1 site for every 1000 subscribers. With roughly 8 billion subscribers, this will amount to 8 million sites.

Omdia statistics from above says that there are 7 million physical sites and 10 million logical sites. As there are many sites hosting infrastructure from multiple operators, the number of logical sites are more than the number of physical sites.

In addition there will be small cells mounted on lamp posts, side of the buildings, indoors, etc. that generally may not be included in the count mainly.

When it comes to base stations, there is a debate on what is included. For example on a tower hosting multiple operators, each of them will have their own Baseband Unit (BBU), so this is multiple base stations. If for an operator, there are multiple generations of technologies and within each of these generation, multiple frequencies, sectors, etc. Do they count as a single base station or multiple?

Then there are towers and masts. Wikipedia nicely explains that "The terms "mast" and "tower" are often used interchangeably. However, in structural engineering terms, a tower is a self-supporting or cantilevered structure, while a mast is held up by stays or guys."

So coming back to 5G, how many base stations have been rolled out in the major markets?


In an earlier post on NTT Docomo, we pointed out that Docomo coverage is forecast to increase from 500 base stations in 150 locations to 10,000 sites (in about 500 cities) by June 2021 and 20,000 by March 2022.

According to Tefficient, Rakuten had 5739 LTE base stations on air at the end of June. The three incumbent operators have roughly 200000 LTE base stations each.

South Korea

South Korea were the first to launch commercial 5G by all operators in the country. As of July 2020, they had 121,000 5G base stations


Back in December last year, Global Times reportedthere are currently approximately 6 million 4G base stations worldwide, more than half of which are in China and about 300,000 in the US. Why does China have so many base stations? This is because of a nation-level project in China in 2003. The project required that more than 95 percent of remote mountainous areas should be covered with communication signals and the fees must not be higher than those in urban areas.

In an earlier post we reported, the total number of 4G base stations in the first half of 2019 was 2.71 million including a net addition of 300,000, providing robust support for the development of large volumes of data traffic business.

European 5G observatory reported that China intends to have 600,000 5G base stations by the end of 2020. According to RCR wireless, Chinese telcos have already deployed over 20,000 5G base stations in Shanghai.

According to Tefficient, China Mobile had 188k 5G base stations in June 2020. So China then had a total of 398k 5G base stations

This video from CGTN a few months back gives some good info on the Chinese 5G deployments.

There isn't information available from other countries. If available in the next few months, I may add them here.

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