5G is coming, but at what pace and at what level of deployment all depends on where in the world you look, Anthony Webb, EMEA Vice President at A10 Networks takes a look at the global 5G deployment picture so far
A key takeaway for RCR Wireless News’ in-depth overview of the state of 5G deployments worldwide entitled What’s the Status of 5G Globally? is that everything surrounding adoption — from successful 5G deployments to the rate of service rollouts and scale — depends on the specific policies of a given country and the technologies utilised by their mobile service providers.
Such an environment makes it difficult to provide a true, apples-to-apples comparison of 5G solutions on a global scale. Regardless, it was noted that, around the world, 5G deployments are primarily driven by the need for additional digital capacity and/or the need to drive down costs via network virtualisation.
To get started, let’s look at some big-picture global subscription trends:
Key Issues Impacting 5G Deployments: Policies and Spectrum
Government guidelines and regulations regarding infrastructure policies, the allocation of 5G spectrum licenses, and zoning — on both local and national levels — shape the environment in which mobile service providers have to operate. The successful build-out of infrastructure (e.g., cell installations/towers) depends heavily on how supportive that environment is in terms of the regulatory landscape. Lengthy right-of-way hearings, zoning approval cycles and exorbitant application fees can severely delay the rollout of necessary infrastructure. And the lack of uniformity among federal, state, and local regulations only compounds the complexity confronting prospective 5G network build-outs.
While the regulatory environment has a major impact on the growth of 5G, the availability of spectrum is the key factor throttling the speed of 5G rollouts across various countries. Some nations are aggressively opening the frequency spectrum for 5G, while others take a more circumspect approach. Additionally, 5G rollouts are more complex than previous generations of wireless communications technologies because the 5G frequency spectrum is in fact divided into three distinct deployments: high-band (millimeter waves), mid-band, and low-band.
Low-band uses a similar frequency range as 4G and offers a similar capacity, while millimeter wave is the fastest with frequencies ranging from 24 GHz to 72 GHz. With frequencies between 2.4 GHz and 4.2 GHz, mid-band is the most widely deployed (30+ networks worldwide — Sprint and China Mobile use 2.5 GHz).
Mid-band networks have good reach and coverage can be extended by upgrading existing towers, making them more cost-effective. As a rule of thumb, low-band provides the best coverage and high-band is the fastest. Mid-band provides the best of both worlds: better coverage than millimeter waves and adequate spectrum availability to reach most of the speed promised by 5G. For this reason, mid-band is considered the ideal deployment.
5G Deployments — EU Highlights
- In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many nations are re-evaluating their relationship with China, particularly as it pertains to the use of Huawei technologies in their 5G infrastructure. The UK has been especially vocal about its concerns with Huawei.
- The coronavirus has also brought out a growing number of conspiracy theories linking 5G mobile networks to the rise of the pandemic, as well as to cancer. According to a recent report (Times of Israel, April 21, 2020), some 50 fires targeting cell towers and other equipment were reported in Britain in April. Sixteen towers have also been torched in the Netherlands, with additional attacks reported in Ireland, Cyprus, and Belgium. Clearly, such developments can have a significant impact on the rollout of 5G on the continent.
5G Security, Device, and Infrastructure Developments
Large-scale adoption of 5G can’t happen without the availability of compatible equipment (smartphones, routers, customer premises equipment, and fixed wireless terminals). Fortunately, output of the “right stuff” is picking up rapidly. According to the Ericsson Mobility Report, compatible handset device volumes are forecast to hit 160M units as China continues its expansion of 5G coverage. By 2021, it’s projected that all Chinese manufactured handsets will support 5G. Even India, without any functioning 5G networks, has 5G phones for sale — after all, they work just fine on a 4G network. Industry analysts assert that, before long, every modem on the market will support 5G. Other highlights in this area include:
- The availability of 5G devices is scaling up much faster the previous generations. 5G has already outpaced the launching of LTE devices at the time of the rollout of 4G.
- First-generation 5G phones are basically 3G/4G handsets with a 5G radio.
- Next-generation 5G phones with second-generation chips will deliver a substantial performance boost when introduced later this year.
- Next-generation devices will cost more than phones that are not future-proofed for 5G compatibility.
- The availability of affordable handsets will have a direct impact on subscriptions, and thus spur the growth of 5G networks.
- China is pushing the development of affordable 5G phones, while the U.S., for now, is focused on the premium market. Don’t expect any low-priced U.S. options in 2020, although the U.S. will have more 5G subscriptions than 4G by 2022.
- In 2020 we will also see growth in 5G-compatible customer-premises equipment (CPE), fixed wireless terminals (FWT), and pocket routers, accelerating the implementation of 5G-enabled homes.
As 5G gains greater momentum, it’s proving to be a more impactful technology than previous cellular generations — a technology that has the potential to change the way we approach everyday life in many ways. Moving forward, however, we can expect to see 4G and 5G networks co-exist for years to come. Regardless, we are seeing global 5G deployments happen at a much faster rate than previous generations.