5G Is Doing Surprisingly Well

Robert Clark
News Analysis
Robert Clark
1/8/2020

For all the controversy around 5G, there's so far been little questioning of the technology.

But sooner or later there's a backlash against any new mobile standard, and we got a taste last week with this Wall Street Journal piece airing the complaints of some Korean punters.

It's a legitimate exercise, though it's not hard to find dissatisfied customers grappling with new phones and unpredictable connectivity.

But we've come to recognize the backlash itself as one of the traditional markers of a new mobile generation.

At some point there's a chorus of those who find the service doesn't meet expectations, there's some reporting on it and then we move on as good devices emerge and networks stabilize.

Despite all that happened last year, the latest generation is progressing surprisingly well.

It is weathering unprecedented fissures -- the campaign against Huawei, the US-China tech war, the fracturing of the global supply chain. Most likely, those tensions have actually accelerated 5G deployment; that's certainly true in the case of China, which brought its timetable forward six months.

As many have pointed out, 5G is the first mobile generation in which the handset guys have beaten the kit-makers. That's one achievement.

Last year dozens of networks launched, and more than 300 operators committed to deploy 5G, with a wave of commercial debuts anticipated in 2020. Around 20 million subscribers have signed up and there's no reason to doubt forecasts such as this, from CCS, predicting 1 billion subs by 2023.

Today, pricing is still a thorny issue. Most operators are reluctant to drive mass take-up that would overwhelm their limited coverage. It will be a while until coverage broadens, handset prices fall and adoption accelerates.

Which leads us to the 5G unknowns. We are only a little wiser today about which use cases, beyond price and bandwidth, are going to drive adoption and profitability. For sure, video, AR and gaming apps are getting some traction -- but we thought that a year ago.


Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on
Light Reading.


The big mystery is in the enterprise, as anyone who's been hostage to a 5G presentation in the last three years can tell you.

Will 5G become the goldmine operators are hanging out for? And if so, will they hold their own against the emerging 5G private networks? Or will they lose out because of their inability to build relationships with verticals?

We won't find out in 2020. Even after networks are deployed, it takes time for new services to make their way through the business planning and deployment cycles. It will be another year or more before 5G makes its presence felt across verticals.

The easiest prediction to make about 2020 is we'll spend a lot of time monitoring the health of 5G, backlash included.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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