5G survey: lots of trials, few launches, mostly eMBB

5G signal
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5G trials are in full swing, according to a new study conducted by IHS Markit, but only a handful of commercial launches are expected in the next year, and the main use case will initially be faster broadband.

The study – entitled “Evolution from 4G to 5G: Service Provider Survey – covers just 17 of the world’s largest service providers, who together have 43% of the 6 billion mobile subscribers worldwide. From that base, 82% of mobile operators said they are busy trialing and testing the technology, mainly in North America and Asia.

Also, 12% of survey respondents – all from North America – are planning commercial 5G rollouts by year’s end, while South Korea is set to switch on 5G in 2019. Most operators in Europe, however, aren’t planning to deploy 5G until 2021 or later.

According to the study, 82% of operators polled for the rated ultra-low latency (ULL) the chief technical driver for 5G, followed by decreased cost per bit (76%) and increased network capacity (71%).

“Every technical aspect that’s related to substantial improvement in network performance – lower latency, higher capacity, higher bandwidth, higher throughput – while decreasing the cost per bit continues to receive high ratings in our survey,” said Stéphane Téral, executive research director of mobile infrastructure and carrier economics for IHS Markit. “This is logical because it’s the foundation of the 5G definition.”

Meanwhile, the most challenging network development item on the 5G agenda is radio, according to the study – 53% of operator respondents said radio is the area of the network that will require the biggest development effort to make 5G happen, followed by transport (24%) and management (14%).

Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) was the highest-rated 5G use case driver among survey respondents, followed by real-time gaming. As real-time gaming requires a super-fast network with low latency, it cannot occur in the absence of eMBB; the same applies to high-definition (HD) and ultra-high-definition (UHD) video services and tactile low-latency touch and steer.

Even so, respondents expect fixed-wireless access (FWA) to be ready for commercial deployment first, Téral said.

“The bottom line is early 5G will be an extension of what we know best: broadband, whether in FWA or eMBB form,” he said. “Don’t expect factory automation, tactile low-latency touch and steer, or autonomous driving to be ready on 5G anytime soon despite being touted as the chief 5G use cases.”

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