The COVID-19 pandemic did not demonstrably affect investments in 5G radio access networks (RAN) despite early concerns that the crisis would slow the pace of 5G growth, according to a new analyst report from Light Reading sister company Omdia.
In fact, Omdia is now forecasting that 2021 will be the year that 5G RAN investments exceed those in LTE RAN, and it predicts that 5G will account for more than half of all RAN investments in 2021.
In the report, "2021 Trends to Watch: Mobile Infrastructure," Omdia analysts Daryl Schoolar, practice leader, service provider networks, and Chris Nicoll, senior principal analyst, service provider networks, also note that delayed 5G spectrum auctions in 2020 will take place in 2021, leading to increased 5G builds next year.
"These builds will be in addition to ongoing 5G expansion based on software upgrades of existing LTE networks," the analysts said.
Thus despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, mobile network operators are building for their 5G futures even if they are not sure how they will fully monetize this investment, the report said.
Core of the matter
In terms of technology trends, the 5G core is expected to quickly evolve to a "one core" solution, serving as a key integration point for mobile networks by supporting 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G services.
According to Omdia, operators that embrace a single core over multiple technology-specific cores are better positioned for network integration and migration to 5G, reducing both opex and capex over the next two to three years.
As for vendors, those that have not announced single-core solutions are behind the curve and risk losing out on core network upgrades and implementations to single-core providers, Omdia said.
In terms of the RAN, the adoption of open and virtualized RAN is expected to accelerate.
Omdia points out that Dish Network will start deploying its new mobile network in 2021, "giving open vRAN proponents a second large-scale greenfield proof point for their solutions" after Rakuten Mobile in Japan.
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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading