With the news that Verizon has commercially launched its 5G wireless broadband services in various US cities (based on its in-house-developed variant of 5G), it is clear that the 5G era is upon us. OK, fully mobile services are not here yet, and 5G smartphones are not likely to appear in volumes until mid-to-late next year. Nonetheless, operators are frantically planning, and in some cases deploying 5G infrastructure so they can be ready to meet government demands, their promises or to match competitor timescales for 5G service launch. Hardly a week goes by without some operator somewhere announcing its first 5G pilot site deployment.
Contracts worth billions of dollars have already been announced, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. With that in mind, the big radio access network (RAN) infrastructure vendors have been working on their portfolios, with "early drop" versions, pre-commercial pilot versions and some properly commercial technologies, in selected cases. None of them yet has a complete commercial portfolio -- all have work to do to keep up with evolving 3GPP standards, to meet customers' technology demands and to bring hardened commercial products to market. All promise rapid product evolution between now and the end of 2019. All have been running trials and pilots with potential customers.
But they are not all in the same place. Some vendors are further ahead in terms of 5G product release and commercial contract capture. Some don't really expect fully commercial solutions until next year. Vendors are taking different approaches to the idea of opening up the RAN, are in different stages in terms of active antenna and massive multiple input multiple output (MIMO) development, support for spectrum bands and offer different flavors of end-to-end support. And some now have chunky contracts in their back pockets; others have yet to make any big announcements.
It is too early to say who will be the also-RANs in this market. The Chinese vendors have missed out on the spoils in the US so far, but look to have pretty much "nailed-on" opportunities in the vast Chinese market that will give them the volumes and expertise to catch up and target customers in other countries around the world. And with open RAN proponents trying to force their way into what has previously been a closed, and proprietary market (emboldened as they are by the encouragement of many of the world's biggest operators), even the big vendors with large, early 5G contracts will be looking over their shoulders.
Heavy Reading's latest report, 5G RANs: Vendor's Emerging Portfolios, takes a close look at major RAN infrastructure vendors' state of progress at this critical juncture in the evolution of the 5G market. Profiling eight major vendors (Cisco, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Huawei, NEC, Nokia, Samsung and ZTE), it looks at the 5G RAN solutions they are offering now, timelines for commercial 5G technology launch and customer trial and contract announcements.
— Simon Sherrington, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading