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May 14, 2019
5G is starting to hit the mainstream this year, with more than 20 wireless network operators having launched 5G networks across almost 300 locations around the world. Those statistics, paired with 26 vendors planning or offering 5G devices across eight different form factors, certainly indicates momentum in what is still a relatively immature market.
Indeed, 5G will probably roll out on a global basis more quickly than previous generations of wireless technology. That's likely due to a confluence of factors, including the availability of new spectrum bands across a number of global markets, as well as operators' generally depressed financial situation, coupled with their yearning for new revenue opportunities.
5G is rapidly becoming a reality across the world, judging from the progress some operators and device vendors are making.
Speedtest company Ookla today took the wraps off its new global 5G map that tracks commercial launches of the technology around the world. The company currently counts 20 operators that have deployed 5G networks in 294 locations across the globe. However, the company is stretching the definition of a "deployed" market to adhere to some operators' dubious marketing efforts. Ookla noted that it's listing both "limited" and "commercial" market launches. "Limited availability is when a 5G network is present but devices are limited to select users, usually in a testing environment. Commercial availability refers to a 5G network where any consumer can purchase a device for use on this network," the firm wrote.
For example, in the United States Verizon has launched mobile 5G service in a handful of locations and is selling the service through its retail outlets to actual consumers. AT&T, meanwhile, is only making its offerings available to "select" customers.
Globally, Ookla noted, Swiss operators Swisscom and Sunrise are leading the 5G charge by providing 5G services in a combined total of 225 cities. And those are "commercial" markets.
In South Korea, the firm counts 18 total commercial 5G rollouts across the country's three main operators: SK Telecom, LG Uplus and KT Telecom.
Other noteworthy locations include Telstra and Optus in Australia, Finland, Spain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates.
Ookla's 5G map is here.
A separate report from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) helps to paint a picture of the 5G device situation. In its latest monthly report on the 5G device landscape, the firm counted a total of 48 announced 5G devices from 26 different vendors, covering eight form factors: phones, hotspots, indoor modems, outdoor modems, modules, snap-on dongles/adapters, IoT routers and USB terminals.
The firm said the 48 devices, including all their various iterations and derivations, represent an increase from the 33 the firm counted in March.
Importantly, the firm also counted four different 5G chipsets vendors: Huawei, Mediatek, Qualcomm and Samsung. Intel recently dropped out of the market.
However, much like Ookla's count, the figures from the GSA also include plenty of caveats, mainly that many of the devices it counted have not been released yet. The only commercially available 5G devices on the GSA's list include:
Huawei 5G CPE 2.0 (mmWave)
Huawei 5G CPE 2.0 (Sub-6 GHz)
Huawei 5G CPE Win
Motorola 5G Moto Mod
Netgear Nighthawk M5 Fusion MR5000 (aka Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot)
Nokia Fastmile 5G Gateway
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G (Europe and Asia)
The GSA's full list of devices is available here.
It's still early days in 5G. Analyst firm Ovum recently reported that the number of 5G customers globally will pass the 1 billion market in 2023, but that figure will represent just over 16% of all mobile broadband customers.
Further, few of today's 5G networks or devices represent anything really new or noteworthy. Today's 5G networks essentially stand as a faster version of 4G, and advanced features like mobile edge computing and network slicing are not yet available in most locations.
That said, the first step in any technology transition in the wireless industry is to seed the market with compatible devices, thereby ensuring that whatever services follow can be accessed by a customer base large enough to generate significant revenues.
Such situations often boil down to the chicken and egg causality dilemma: Without a chicken there's no way to have an egg, and without an egg there's no way to have a chicken. The global 5G momentum highlighted in the figures from Ookla and GSA certainly seem to indicate that the wireless industry has moved past this dilemma.
Read more about:Asia
Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading
Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.
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