5G was conceived and launched amidst abundant promises. It was suggested it would unlock new use cases for mobile operators and enable a step change in networks, making them more open to cooperation within an ecosystem. One year on from the first commercial 5G service launches, and two years and a half after the landmark demonstrations during the Olympic Winter Games of 2018, Digiecon look at how 5G deployment is faring in key European markets.
5G was first showcased, at scale, at the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games in February 2018. A series of exciting services were on display. These included:
4K streaming video service via a 5G network
5G VR/MR Broadcasting
Sync-view and 360o Camera at the Bobsleigh competition
5G enabled broadband and online services at rural locations
That very public demonstration set expectations high and the specialist press and analyst houses, with a few exceptions, where full of excitement about the dawn of a new era when service providers would eventually derive meaningful revenue from service offerings other than connectivity.
So, how is 5G living up to promises? We look at reports from the top regulatory bodies in Europe to try to assert the current status of deployment.
Ofcom (UK) – Ofcom’s latest Connected Nations Update report from May 2020 states the following: “We are in the early stages of 5G rollout, so we will not be reporting on 5G coverage in this update. We continue to work with mobile network operators to establish how best to evaluate and report on 5G coverage.” All four mobile operators (EE, O2, Vodafone and Three) launched 5G services during 2019.
BNetzA (DE) – There are no identifiable BNetzA reports on the status of 5G deployment in Germany. However, the general press identifies that Vodafone has launched commercial 5G services from July 2019 and Deutsche Telekom switched on its 5G network on September 2019.
ARCEP (FR) – Arcep’s update from June 2020 mentions: “Arcep will begin the auction that was initially scheduled for April sometime between 20 and 30 September.” and “The commercial launch of 5G will then be performed on operators’ initiative. Here, Arcep is lifting the obligation listed in the specifications for each operator to deploy 5G services in at least two cities before the end of 2020.”
Agcom (IT) – There are no identifiable Agcom reports on the status of 5G deployment in Italy. However, it is known from the general press that Vodafone and Telecom Italia have both launched 5G services from June 2019.
CNMC (ES) – CNMC’s latest annual report for telecommunications (covering the year of 2019) states the following: “Base stations with 4G technology grew by 11.2%, reaching a total of 52,607 and a coverage of the population of 99.4%. Also, in 2019, the commercialisation of mobile internet services using 5G began. In December of that year a total of 237 stations were already active, providing 5G coverage.”
The evidence from the regulatory reports in the 5 major economies in Europe show that despite numerous 5G launches from mid 2019, the level of deployment is not yet significant enough to track the progress in deployment. Looking back at 4G, it was first launched in 2009; however, only by end of 2018 it represented more than 50% of all mobile subscriptions in Western Europe. Even with arguably stronger drivers for deployment, it seems unlikely 5G will represent more than 10% of the total number of subscriptions in the next couple of years in Europe.
Still, Ericsson has a much more optimistic view on development of 5G networks worldwide. According to the Ericsson Mobility Report June 2020, their global forecast indicates that “5G subscriptions are forecast to reach 2.8 billion globally by the end of 2025, accounting for about 30 percent of total mobile subscriptions.”
South Korea, currently the most advanced market in terms of 5G deployment and adoption, recorded around 7 million 5G subscriptions at the end of June 2020. This is about 10% of the total mobile subscriptions in this country, an admirable feat. In Europe, it is expected that the Nordic countries will be the ones with fastest adoption of 5G technology. However, with most commercial service launches dating from six months to a year ago, it is too early to tell what pace deployment and adoption of 5G technology will take in this region.
This is definitely a hot topic to keep an open eye on. Uncertainty about status of Huawei as a viable supplier, the Covid-19 pandemic and misinformation about 5G effects on human health, have together played a major part in holding back deployment of 5G in Europe. As industry and government work to allay health fears, the pandemic becomes more under control and the limitations on use of equipment from Huawei become better known, there is indeed a potential for accelerated speed in 5G network deployment. Permanent changes in the way we work and consume, triggered by the pandemics, may also mean demand will follow.