Earlier this week I took part in a panel discussion about the early learnings from 5G deployments at Omdia's Future Vision executive briefing in London. I was joined by two operators, one of which has been at the vanguard of 5G in Europe while the other is taking a wait-and-see approach, perhaps hoping to learn from the mistakes of others. I should note these operators do not compete in the same countries and the timing of 5G deployments has been driven to a large extent by the timing of spectrum auctions by regulators.
Paul Ceely, director of network strategy at BT, gave us the perspective of one of the early adopters of 5G in Europe. The mobile business that BT acquired, EE, was a trailblazer in its rollout of 4G in the UK and they have remained true to form launching 5G in May of last year, more than a month ahead of Vodafone UK and four months ahead of O2. They have now deployed in 50 town and cities and, although coverage is not 100% in all of these places, a study by RootMetrics suggests that BT's EE has the broadest 5G network in the UK. Ceely hinted at the huge engineering effort that has taken place to get this level of performance in place.
Karine Dussert-Sarthe, director of product marketing and design at Orange, gave us a different perspective on 5G; more about the consumer proposition than the technology per se. The French operators have not yet begun their rollout of 5G and in Spain Orange has decided to let Vodafone and Telefonica take the lead as the technology is not yet mature. However, Orange did launch 5G in Romania last November which suggests other factors might be behind the Spanish tardiness such as spectrum availability. On a positive note, Dussert-Sarthe cited a recent consumer survey which suggested French consumers expect to pay a premium for 5G services. Whether the competitive dynamics in France mean all the operators take a common approach to 5G premium pricing, and none of them gives it away for free, remains to be seen.
Although the rollout and adoption of 5G is proceeding much faster than 4G did ten years ago, we are still in the early innings of this new technology. As operators broaden their coverage and densify their networks they will be able to deliver on the promise of enhanced mobile broadband. And as core networks are upgraded operators will be able to provide lower latency and the guaranteed performance of network slicing thereby potentially opening up new revenue opportunities in both consumer and enterprise markets.
— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading