Data: 5G reaches tipping point
April 18, 2023
Industry data from network test, monitoring and assurance solutions specialist Viavi Solutions reveals that 5G connectivity has reached a tipping point globally as 5G networks are now active in 47 of the world’s 70 largest economies by GDP.
In its seventh annual The State of 5G, VIAVI revealed that there are 2,497 cities globally with commercial 5G networks, across 92 countries. A further 23 countries have pre-commercial 5G trials underway and 32 countries have announced their 5G intentions. This leaves just 48 countries, many of which are smaller island nations, that have not publicly announced plans for 5G.
A total of 18 countries announced their first 5G deployments in 2022. The new 5G countries include two of the largest developing economies, India and Mexico, as well as other emerging economies such as Angola, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. The data also revealed several other major trends relating to 5G deployments:
US displaces China to top the 5G cities leader board for the first time
The United States has topped the 5G cities leader board for the first time, displacing China, which was the leader in previous VIAVI State of 5G updates since 2021. In the US, the number of cities with 5G networks has grown significantly to 503, compared with just 297 in May 2022, a 69 percent increase. In contrast, the number of 5G cities in China has remained static at 356 since the June 2021 update.
The number of 5G cities is just one aspect of the relative success of the two nations’ 5G evolution, with China ahead in other key metrics. The United States’ breadth of 5G coverage contrasts with China’s depth of 5G coverage, with China remaining ahead in data speeds, 5G subscribers and base stations deployed.
Manufacturing sector emerges as clear leader in Private 5G
The manufacturing sector has emerged as the clear leader for private 5G networks globally, with 44 per cent of the publicly announced deployments, followed by logistics, education, transport, sports, utilities, and mining. This trend appears to suggest a clear pragmatism about how the business world is tackling private 5G, where organisations with the biggest connectivity pain points and greatest opportunities for smart applications are naturally emerging as the Private 5G front-runners.
Businesses within these sectors often operate in challenging environments where high-speed connectivity may not be a given. These verticals also cross over with the sectors where IoT applications have evolved most strongly, leading to discussions of smart factories, smart cities and so on. The close relationship between private 5G and IoT opportunities also coincides with a new realism among telecom operators about IoT being an almost entirely vertically-focused revenue opportunity.
Standalone 5G gains momentum with 45 operator networks
5G Standalone (SA) networks, meaning networks that have been built using a new 5G core and which operate independently of existing 4G infrastructure, are rapidly gaining momentum around the world. As of January 2023, there were 45 5G SA networks in place, across 23 countries. This contrasts with January of 2022, when there were just 24 NSA networks globally.
Often considered to be ‘true’ 5G, 5G SA networks offer a wider array of use cases and monetisation models compared to non-standalone networks (NSA), which are relatively limited in their applications beyond enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), meaning faster data speeds. With a near doubling of 5G SA networks, more operators will start to realise more of the long-promised commercial benefits of 5G, while consumers and businesses in those countries may start to notice improved network speeds.
Diverse and widespread interest in mmWave across the globe
Spectrum for 5G in the millimetre wave (mmWave) band, generally considered to be 24 GHz and above, has garnered a lot of interest from diverse countries. The spectrum range offers significant benefits with the highest speeds, lowest latency and highest capacity. However, it also comes with downsides such as lower ranges, higher equipment costs and the need for dense deployments.
Countries that have made mmWave spectrum available span every continent and represent an extremely diverse mix of population sizes, economies, and levels of technological advancement. Several of the largest mobile markets in the world, including China, India, and the United States have made mmWave available as well as those with tiny populations such as Seychelles and Guam. The same pattern of diversity holds true across developed markets such as Germany and Japan through to emerging economies like Indonesia and Vietnam.
The diversity of countries licensing mmWave shows that there is a clear appeal from regulators combined with a natural interest from spectrum-hungry operators. Nonetheless, with clear benefits and drawbacks, the mmWave story is likely to have many twists and turns over the coming years.
“2022 was 5G’s graduation year,” suggests Sameh Yamany, CTO at VIAVI Solutions. “It evolved from being a developed markets phenomenon into a global phenomenon. On a technical level too, with a near doubling of Standalone 5G networks, the capabilities of 5G have expanded significantly and we can look forward to more sophisticated network and business capabilities from operators. In the coming year, a major focus will be network quality and the further development of Open RAN technologies – and we’ll be playing our part in ensuring those are as successful as possible.”