5G really is coming faster, thanks to US-China feud: TBR

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ITEM: While most operators are in no hurry to invest in 5G, that doesn’t mean telecoms vendors are wrong to say that that 5G is arriving sooner than expected, says analyst firm TBR. It is indeed coming a couple of years early – albeit mainly as a fixed wireless option – and you can thank the US-China feud over 5G world domination for that.

MWC 2018 was top-loaded with hype about 5G being here now, yet in recent months some vendors have been walking that back a little by shifting their marketing focus to 4G enhancements – in part because the standards work from the 3GPP isn’t complete yet, and the part that is finished is Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G NR, which requires a souped-up LTE network to work.

Chris Antlitz, a senior analyst in TBR’s telecom practice, said in a research note that with NSA standards finalized and 5G radios now commercially available from vendors, many operators in the early adopter phase have decided to move forward their deployment timetables by up to two years – partly because of the network-efficiency benefits, but also because of government influence.

“5G has become a highly politicized topic, particularly as it pertains to the tech race between the US and China. Governments in both nations have made 5G a key political initiative and view the technology as critical to remaining a world power,” said Antlitz. “This governmental oversight has exerted pressure on operators in those countries to pull forward their 5G deployment timetables and leverage their investments as a means of obtaining good favor with regulators.”

While that may be good news for vendors, the catch for operators is that 5G’s business case remains elusive, as compatible smartphones remain at least a year away from commercial reality. Also, oft-cited 5G use cases like self-driving cars and real-time industrial apps are several years away from becoming anywhere near mainstream, let alone profitable. That’s why most operators outside the US and China (and other early adopters like Japan and South Korea) are taking a wait-and-see approach before taking the plunge, TBR says

That said, early adopters are banking on efficient mobile broadband and fixed wireless broadband to justify their investment, says TBR. 5G promises to be ten times more efficient in terms of cost‐per‐gigabyte compared to LTE, while fixed wireless provides a unique opportunity to bring badly needed competition to the fixed-broadband space.

That’s why 5G also figures into the latest fixed broadband access equipment forecast from analyst firm Ovum.

That report – which covers PON, xDSL and CMTS/CCAP – says that next-gen broadband access technologies will all see growth from now to 2023, by which time next-gen will account for 83% of global broadband access equipment revenues as operators target both residential and business customers. And next-gen mobile will play a key role in that, says said Julie Kunstler, principal analyst on Ovum’s Service Provider Technology team.

“The single-access network is on the horizon as service providers seek technologies that will consolidate residential, business, MBH (mobile backhaul) and MFH (mobile fronthaul) traffic,” she said in a research note. “In addition, residential customers want unlimited bandwidth to support 4K content and multimedia, as well as multiplayer online gaming,”

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