Everyone wants to talk about mobile 5G and how they are leading in the space. However, the reality is that mobile 5G is a broadly encompassing wireless standard that will change the way we view the future of cellular communications and the possibilities like never before. As such, it takes a deeper understanding to evaluate who’s leading in mobile 5G.
This article is the final one in our 6-part series, focusing on where regions around the world currently stand on 5G policy and regulations as well as consortia that supports deployment and innovation. As a recap to our series on mobile 5G leadership, we concluded in:
- Part 1 that Qualcomm is the leader in intellectual property and patent leadership
- Part 2 that Qualcomm is also by far the standout in the 5G chipset ecosystem
- Part 3 that Samsung is the undisputed leader in integrating 5G components into end user devices
- Part 4 that Ericsson and HPE are 5G infrastructure leaders
- Part 5 that T-Mobile/ Sprint, Deutsche Telekom, and SK Telecom are carrier leaders given their readiness to deliver 5G services.
How important is the race to 5G?
Many around the world view 5G as a significant technology that could serve as a catalyst for an industrial evolution. Consequently, the term “Industry 4.0” has been coined to capture the notion of factories integrating 5G connectivity, sensors, computational power, and edge analytics all aimed at improving production yields and operational efficiency. Some carriers such as T-Mobile in the United States in its ongoing bid to acquire Sprint argue that a first-mover status could advantage one region over another in the form of job creation. Many political leaders globally also surmise that 5G consumer and business services have the potential to drive significant economic expansion much like what 4G LTE did in birthing a disruptive, multi-billion-dollar ridesharing service that has toppled the taxicab industry.
Defining regional leadership
For our evaluation, we focused on four countries/ regions – United States, China, Asia Pacific, and Western Europe, and evaluated three vectors – published governmental policy related to 5G, spectrum allocation and regulation, and consortia to support 5G applications and use cases. We then assigned a letter grade given where we believe each region stands today: “A” for above average in meeting all criteria, “B” for average in meeting two, and “C” for passing in meeting one.
The United States government has been aggressively backing the deployment of 5G networks. A number of presidential memorandums and reports have been published dating back to 2018 that can be found here. Research has also been directed toward spectrum allocation with three key priorities recently highlighted in a report published by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Titled “Emerging Technologies and their Expected Impact on Non-Federal Spectrum Demand”, the report recommends pursuing spectrum flexibility with an emphasis on multi-band deployment, improving spectrum awareness through research and monitoring, and maximizing efficiency while balancing the needs of both governmental and private business stakeholders. One of the most significant pieces of published U.S. policy related to 5G is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 5G FAST Plan. It outlines three core strategies- making more spectrum available, updating infrastructure policy, and updating regulations.
From a spectrum allocation and deployment perspective, the United States is the only region to deploy both Sub 6 and mmWave spectrum for future 5G services. If you want to learn more about spectrum and the differences between 5G standalone (SA) and non-standalone networks (NSA), I published a recent Forbes article that can be found here. The FCC has been very aggressive historically in wireless spectrum auctions, and the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS)/ OnGo Wireless also realized its initial commercial deployment late last month to provide a flexible sharing model that repurposes military spectrum in an effort to provide more of this precious resource to support new service offerings.
From a consortia perspective, the United States lags other regions in the world. However, 5G infrastructure providers such as Ericsson and Samsung have struck strategic relationships with AT&T and Verizon for proof of concept labs and testbeds for smart manufacturing, healthcare, and education applications among others. The University of Texas at Austin also hosts the Wireless Networking and Communications Group tasked with investigating industrial applications tied to next-generation wireless networking. Given the aforementioned initiatives, we consequently believe the United States can check the box in this area.
Dating back to 2018, the Chinese government through its National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has backed 5G investment, research, and subsequent testing. It is widely speculated that Huawei benefits significantly from a resource perspective as well as credit facilities that are made available to carriers that consider Chinese-made infrastructure. The NDRC also recently announced that it would fast-track 5G commercial licenses to spur deployment and service innovation. However, beyond these considerations, there isn’t the same level of published plans and research as compared to the United States.
From a spectrum allocation and deployment perspective, Sub 6 is deployed in the region with mmWave planned. The country’s (and world’s) largest wireless telecommunications infrastructure provider Huawei has invested significant resources to further 5G innovation and engages with the three national carriers in trial and demo activity, but no formal consortia exist. There have been some efforts behind a EUCHINA IoT and 5G collaboration but it seems to have concluded at the beginning of this year. Despite these shortcomings, China recently reported that over 10 million subscribers have signed up for 5G access plans ahead of commercial deployments.
In contrast to China, the government of South Korea has been aggressive in its pursuit of 5G policy due in large part to the country’s poor monetization of prior 4G LTE investments. I attribute this to a singular focus on a national strategy for 5G authored by its Ministry of Science and Technology. With a stated goal of creating over half a million new jobs by 2026, South Korea has identified 10 key industries benefiting from new 5G services that include new content, smart factories, autonomous vehicles, digital healthcare, and smart cities. Today, South Korea is a leader in mobile 5G deployment with an astounding 2 million subscribers across all three carriers.
This past spring, Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication finally allocated and assigned spectrum for future 5G services, but the country is significantly behind the United States, China, and South Korea from both a published policy and deployment perspective. India’s economy is exploding by all measures but ironically 5G deployment has not been a priority even with carrier darling Reliance Jio that has aggressively embraced multi-purpose infrastructure to quickly and cost-effectively build out a reliable 4G LTE network. There is little published Indian 5G policy and spectrum allocations aren’t expected until the end of the year given a 2020 target date for service delivery.
From a spectrum allocation and deployment perspective, Sub 6 is deployed in the region with mmWave planned although there are some indications that Japan is deploying mmWave. The Asia Pacific region would benefit by building a 5G consortia among larger and smaller nations to drive faster adoption and new service innovation.
Western Europe has been decidedly conservative in its approach to 5G deployments, an almost “wait and see” attitude relative to the rest of the world. Could massive governmental subsidies used in the past to build free public Wi-Fi networks be cooling receptivity to mobile 5G in the short term? Time will tell, but the European Union is a much more complicated environment for 5G deployment given individual countries publish regulations and allocate spectrum. From my perspective, they are behind North America and Asia Pacific with only the United Kingdom being the shining star for initial mobile 5G deployments, albeit with an emphasis on access and price versus services. The European Commission guides overall 5G policy, and its 5G Action Plan for Europe attempts to align deployment, set standards for spectrum allocation, promote early deployment and trials, drive standards.
From a spectrum allocation and deployment perspective, Sub 6 is deployed in the region with mmWave planned with the exception of Italy where it has been deployed. However, spectrum auctions by country seem to lag that of the rest of world. From a consortia perspective, Germany is the driving force behind the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (ACIA). The ACIA is tasked with ensuring the best application of 5G technology for connected industries including manufacturing and process. I believe it’s a model that other countries should consider replicating given its working group focus on use case and requirements, spectrum needs, architecture, and test validation.
Our analysis is based on a snapshot of where these countries and regions are from a 5G policy, spectrum allocation, and consortia effort today. All four have some degree of published policy on 5G, but the United States is the current standout. From a spectrum allocation and deployment standpoint, the United States is also deploying in more bands including the propagation-challenged mmWave high bands, but 5G ecosystem leader Qualcomm is helping to level technical hurdles over time. The company’s Dynamic Spectrum Sharing platform and recent mmWave antenna module enhancements have the potential to extend range from 500 feet to 1+ mile. Technology breakthroughs such as these should change the future deployment economics of mmWave and allow other regions to catch up. Finally, consortia can be a powerful element in accelerating the deployment of 5G and supercharging innovation. Western Europe shines in this regard today but gets our lowest mark given that’s the only box they are checking among the three defined criteria.
All of this analysis begs the question, if 5G is a race, is it a sprint or a marathon? I would argue the latter and those regions that align policy, regulation, and consortia effectively should reap the benefit in the form of job creation and economic expansion.