As expected, the Mobile World Congress Americas event held in early September in Los Angeles, California, was a hotbed of 5G announcements. Verizon took the wraps off its 5G (or 5G-like, to be specific) fixed wireless access service, which has an October 1 launch date. AT&T announced Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung as its 5G network vendors. T-Mobile added Ericsson to its already announced 5G partnership with Nokia. But the US isn't alone in making 5G news.
Elisa of Finland claimed the first standards-based 5G network in late June 2018. Vodacom in South Africa said it had a fully standard 5G fixed wireless access service commercially available in the city of Lesotho in late August, to which it says two local business are subscribing. But with these and other 5G announcements, there are questions.
What counts as first? Is it really 5G? Can it be commercial if there aren't any compatible devices? These debates are typical of a new network technology, and are short-lived discussions. What isn't short-lived is the overall impact that 5G will have on the radio access network (RAN) infrastructure market.
The RAN infrastructure market is currently in the middle of multi-year revenue decline. This decline started in 2016, and Ovum doesn't expect it will change in 2018 or 2019. 2020, however, does look brighter.
5G will bring growth back to the radio infrastructure market in 2020, and for at least three years following that. 5G enthusiasm continues to grow. Operators in developed markets are planning to use 5G to improve the efficiency of their mobile networks. 5G can alleviate network congestion and lower the overall cost of delivering data. Fixed wireless access using 5G can bring operators new revenue streams, which is important as growth in mobile broadband sales slow. Eventually, as more advanced network technologies mature, other more advanced services should ride on 5G networks.
LTE, however, should not be forgotten. 5G alone won't turn around the RAN market. LTE will be a very important part of the equation. Many markets still lack broad-scale 4G networks. Even operators in mature 4G markets continue to invest in LTE to support Internet of Things (IoT), emergency services, and improved network densification and coverage. Having gone through several tough years, it is good to finally see an upturn coming for RAN vendors.
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