3rd Jan 2020
Progress towards a global 5th generation wireless network has been brewing for nearly a decade. Rising mobile data traffic and the increased adoption of virtual networking architecture in telecommunications continues to push the technology to fruition. The rollout promises significantly increased internet speeds and lower latency, enabling functionality beyond anything the current 4G network is capable of. Autonomous driving, remote surgery, smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT) all depend on a 5G network that can reliably connect millions of devices at great speeds with minimal delays. Leading sector companies are promising expanded network coverage and more 5G-enabled phones and devices in the coming year.
Many 5G milestones were reached in 2019, with more on their heels for 2020. 2019 saw the launch and expansion of numerous local 5G networks, with an infrastructure market value of approximately $784 million.1 Over the year Verizon and AT&T launched 5G incrementally in various cities throughout the US, while T-Mobile held off until December, when it unveiled a nationwide 5G network that now covers 60% of the US population. T-mobile’s coverage is built on low-band spectrum, which is not as fast as the millimeter wave-based networks launched in some cities, but can cover rural areas. AT&T’s current 5G Plus network is live in 21 cities and delivers faster speeds but reaches fewer people. It is set to start a low-band service in early 2020, aiming for nationwide sub-6 GHz 5G.2
With 5G nationwide coverage a real possibility for 2020, Apple is set to launch the first 5G-compatible iPhone.3 Until now 5G networks have been accessible only via a limited range of 5G-enabled Samsung and Huawei smartphones. Apple’s iPhone 12 is set to seriously increase consumer access to 5G, as well as competition with Samsung, who will continue to offer a broader price-range for 5G smartphones.4 T-Mobile also expects to release 15 new 5G phones in 2020 at varying price points.5
Expansion of 5G infrastructure has an impact potential far beyond the smartphone industry. One analyst stated that it “will spread far beyond the confines of the tech industry, impacting every aspect of society and driving new economic activity.”6 5G could support institutional change that fosters the emergence of new business models and transforms industries and economies. This will spur advances in the whole ecosystem of technologies and industries that engage in its wide use-functions. For example, 2020 could see businesses harnessing the potential of their data through the combined functionality of 5G and cloud/edge computing. In the semiconductor industry, for which the smartphone business is the far largest consumer with $87.7 billion in global revenue this year, 5G expansion in 2020 could spur demand and boost the microchip business.7
5G became a global phenomena in 2019 – South Korea was the first country to achieve a nationwide network in April, with 1 million subscribers counted within 69 days of launching.8 While limited 5G service is already available in parts of China, US, UK and Australia, many more countries (Canada, Japan, Singapore) have announced that 2020 will see their leap into next-generation wireless connectivity.9
The tipping point seems to be just around the corner, with companies promising wide-scale 5G coverage for 2020 and smartphone providers aiming to meet the compatibility challenge. And once the 5G infrastructure is in place, it’s potential use-cases in industry, healthcare, augmented reality and mission critical services are only a matter of time.
1“5G Stocks Set to Gain From Smart Cities’ Revolution,” Manaswita Ghosh Dutta, November 1, 2019. https://www.zacks.com/stock/news/598004/5g-stocks-set-to-gain-from-smart-cities-revolution. 2019 has seen mobile network providers invest billions in 5G infrastructure and spectrum purchases – T-Mobile purchased nearly $8 billion worth of low-band spectrum, and Telstra invested over $380 million in a 3.6 GHz spectrum auction. See “5G Challenges: Why It Isn’t Rolling Out Faster,” Tim Fisher, May 24, 2019. https://www.lifewire.com/5g-challenges-4580354
2 “AT&T to launch 5G for consumers using low-band 850 MHz spectrum,” Bevin Fletcher, Nov 22, 2019. https://www.fiercewireless.com/5g/at-t-to-launch-5g-for-consumers-using-low-band-850-mhz-spectrum
3 “New iPhone 12: Everything we know about Apple’s 2020 iPhones,” Adam Ismail, December 17, 2019. https://www.tomsguide.com/news/latest-iphone-12-news
4 “Apple to capture top spot in 5G smartphones in 2020: Report,” November 15, 2019. https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/apple-to-capture-top-spot-in-5g-smartphones-in-2020-report/1663528
5 “T-Mobile Just Turned on Its Nationwide 5G Network,” Kellen, December 2, 2019. https://www.droid-life.com/2019/12/02/t-mobile-just-turned-on-its-nationwide-5g-network/
6 Len Jelinek, senior director of semiconductor manufacturing for IHS Markit, cited in “5G’s rise set to break the semiconductor market’s fall in 2020,” October 18, 2019. https://technology.ihs.com/618002/5gs-rise-set-to-break-the-semiconductor-markets-fall-in-2020
7 “5G’s rise set to break the semiconductor market’s fall in 2020,” October 18, 2019. https://technology.ihs.com/618002/5gs-rise-set-to-break-the-semiconductor-markets-fall-in-2020
8 “South Korea hits 1 million 5G subscribers in 69 days, beating 4G record,” Jeremy Horowitz, June 12, 2019. https://venturebeat.com/2019/06/12/south-korea-hits-1-million-5g-subscribers-in-69-days-beating-4g-record/
9 “An Update On What’s Happening With 5G And The Global Rollout And What Stocks To Consider,” Matt Bohlsen, November 22, 2019. https://seekingalpha.com/article/4308583-update-on-happening-5g-and-global-rollout-and-what-stocks-to-consider