Wanna know who the top five 5G operators are?

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ITEM: There are no 5G operators yet – at least not with actual 5G customers using actual 5G devices on the actual 5G parts of the network – but Juniper Research has already started ranking the top 5G operators. And they’re mostly in Japan and South Korea.

Juniper has created a ‘5G Operator Positioning Index’ that analyses over 50 global operators based on criteria such as results of 5G testing and trials, the extent and range of partnerships in the 5G ecosystem and the level of technology innovation.

Based on that criteria, here are Juniper’s Top 5 ‘Most Promising’ 5G Operators:

  1. NTT DoCoMo
  2. SK Telecom
  3. LG U+
  4. KT Telecom
  5. Softbank

For readers wondering why the US and China aren’t represented – given that both countries’ governments have somehow transformed 5G into an arms race for global domination – rest easy: Juniper says AT&T and China Mobile are just off-camera in the index.

For now, however, Japan and South Korea are the markets that will lead the charge in 5G deployments and commercialization. Juniper expects that by the end of 2019, 43% of global 5G connections will be located in those two countries.

However, Juniper also cautioned that by far the main initial driver for 5G growth globally will be fixed wireless access, not the fancy futuristic 5G apps we hear a lot about like autonomous cars, Industry 4.0, AR/VR and smart cities/buildings. Those will come later, although Juniper notes in a white paper that while IoT-based apps are the most likely business case for 5G (particularly connected self-driving vehicles), ROI will remain a major challenge, not least because the standard ARPU model doesn’t translate well to IoT connectivity.

Even 5G fixed wireless isn’t the no-brainer business model it appears to be at face value, warns Juniper Research analyst and report author Sam Barker, who says the big challenge for operators will be convincing consumers and enterprises alike that 5G is a viable alternative to fiber – and pricing it accordingly.

“Operators must carefully consider pricing strategies for 5G broadband,” he said. “Pricing must address both the anticipated large traffic generated, whilst remaining price competitive against incumbent broadband suppliers.”

The Juniper report also reminds operators that 5G presents unique configuration and deployment challenges, particularly when it comes to dense small cells. Also, virtualized networks and better network perimeter security are baseline requirements for 5G deployments.

Meanwhile, Juniper said it is forecasting 1.5 billion 5G connections by 2025 (220 million of which will be fixed wireless).

For perspective, the latest figures from GSMA Intelligence say there were just over 5 billion mobile users globally at the end of 2017 (that’s 2G, 3G and 4G subscriptions combined), and is forecast to reach 5.8 billion by 2025 – of which 1.2 billion will be 5G. Meaning that by the most optimistic forecast, 5G will account for less than a quarter of mobile subscriptions seven years from now.

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