We have provided the latest updates on progress across key advanced and developing telecom countries in this bi-annual ‘5G progress tracker’ Insight. Among some high-level comments on the biggest 5G markets below, we provide further concise details on progress across 17 countries and 40 carriers in Table 1 below.
32 countries launched 5G in 2019
CRU estimates 32 countries have launched commercially available, 3GPP compliant 5G services in multiple cities in 2019 as shown in the map below. This is 10 countries more than our previous forecast in the August 2019 Market Outlook report, highlighting the enthusiastic approach by the market, and in many cases, is being treated as the country’s strategical priority.
We expect at least another 34 countries will also be offering 5G services by the end of this year and another 9 countries in the following year, bringing the total to 75 countries by the end of 2021. CRU has not included countries with a launch date post-2021 into the progress map below due to uncertainties surrounding exact dates.
Covid-19 may delay wider-scale 5G roll-out
Government measures to contain the spread of the Covid-19 in China looks set to impact near-term roll-out plans for 5G. According to Reuters, tenders for six big 5G projects have been postponed since end-January. They include an industrial internet project in Guangdong province, a hospital-related project in Jiangxi province, and a further project in Gansu.
CRU do not foresee a shortage of optical cables being the predominant reason behind any delay in China, rather transportation and logistical issues throughout other parts of the telecom supply chain, specifically labour-intensive services like network deployment. On the upside, there is an increasing chance we may see further stimulus measures in H2 as the government seeks to remain on track with overall 5G build-out.
Elsewhere, CRU believe the wider-spread of Covid-19 and related lock-downs and restrictions in Europe, the US and elsewhere will also impact cable deployment, base station and network equipment construction, ultimately delaying carriers immediate 5G roll-out plans in H1 this year. Again, the problem relates to logistical issues, factory closures, travel restrictions and Covid-19 related sickness, which will impact skilled labour resources.
Progress on 5G services continues elsewhere
South Korea: 5G uptake rate slows marginally
After months of strong uptake in 5G subscribers in South Korea, growth fell to a slower but still elevated 9.3% m/m increase in November last year, reaching almost 4.4 million subscribers in total. The pace of growth is exceptional, in terms of subscriptions. According to the country’s biggest telco, SK Telecom, demand for 5G services is roughly double that of LTE to-date. Although CRU expect this to slow as the subscriber base moves beyond the typically early adopting, tech-savvy portion of the population
US: remains amongst the most advanced 5G service providers
Elsewhere, major US telecom operators, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile all launched their 5G services last year, despite Sprint only devoting its mid-band spectrum while T-Mobile is partially using low-band spectrum outside of cities. This means faster deployment and lower investment costs but at slower network speeds and reduced performance.
Europe: Network expansions and launches face a number of challenges
In Europe, the UK government has made the decision to let Huawei continue to be used in its 5G network but will be banned from supplying equipment to its “core network”. France has outlined their procedure for 5G spectrum allocation and are expected to launch commercial 5G services by the end of this year. Although we have heard nothing to-date, any Covid-19 related disruptions to network equipment providers Nokia and Ericsson would likely slow European 5G progress.
Emerging Markets: Vietnam leads the way
Among emerging markets, Viettel, Vietnam’s military-run telco is developing its own 5G technology and expressed its ambition to become the sixth producer of 5G equipment after Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, Samsung Electronics and ZTE. The country is planning to launch 5G services by the middle of this year, among the first countries in South East Asia. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman all entered the 5G era in 2019, becoming one of the early adopters of the fifth mobile generation.
India: further delays to 5G on the horizon
On the downside, India, world’s third largest fibre consumer, will likely postpone 5G network deployment once again. The government is facing difficulty in organising the already delayed 5G spectrum auction early this year, as telecom operators are not keen to participate due to exorbitant base prices, insufficient spectrum and lack of availability of newer bands.
CRU will continue to track 5G progress globally through our Fibre Optic Portfolio, consisting of our Optical Fibre and Cable Monitor and our Telecom Cables Market Outlook. For more information on CRU's services, visit our wire and cable section here.
5G plans / progress in selected countries, updated as of March 2020
Explore this topic with CRU