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5G launches expected ahead of time – but will use cases only serve profit or will they also enable public good?

Furthermore, according to the latest report from Juniper Research, it means that 5G operator-billed service revenues will reach $269 billion by 2025, up from $851 million in 2019 – a CAGR of 161% over the first 7 years of 5G services.

Juniper’s new research, 5G Market Strategies: Consumer & Enterprise Opportunities & Forecasts 2017-2025, is based on the latest market data. It also ranks the top 5G network operators, in terms of ‘most promising’. Juniper lists the top 5G operators as:

  1. SK Telekom
  3. KT Corp
  4. China Mobile
  5. AT&T Mobility

SK Telekom came out on top as a result of it’s 5G trialling over the past 24 months in the fields of millimetre wave spectrum, MIMO (Massive Input, Massive Output) transmission and network splicing. The rankings also take into account an analysis of time in development, breadth and value of partnerships and the progression of 5G network testing.

Additionally, the research predicted that 66 per cent of all 5G operator-billed revenues would come from North America and the Far East & China by 2025.

The report also notes that costs for 5G spectrum and infrastructure build-out would necessitate a diverse range of strategies to maximise operator return on investment, which would be further compounded by the decline in ARPU, and that fact that few only a small number of connections will be 5G-enabled.

As a result, Juniper predicts the adoption of software-based network solutions and network virtualisation in order to lower investment costs, and enable operators to begin realising ROI by 2024.

In an accompanying white paper, entitled ‘5G: How Operators Can Maximise ROI’, Juniper warns that unlike 4G there is no discernible use case to encourage operators to roll out 5G networks. Further, it suggests that increased investment from governmental bodies will be needed to encourage the development of these networks. It goes on to suggest that operators will need to focus on providing connections for applications such as smart cities, healthcare, connected vehicles and smart transportation, smart homes and the IoT.

While that’s all very exciting, these specific use cases must follow rapidly and, as we discovered at a recent seminar, attention needs to be paid to significant, existing network gaps that still cause problems, before these use cases can actually fly. 5G may well deliver performance and the standards may prove robust, but that doesn’t guarantee it will be built where it’s needed.

Smart, autonomous transport is a case in point. It’s easy to see how this might offer much promise in well-covered, densely populated urban areas, but what about in rural areas?

For example, we recently heard someone confidently state that autonomous vehicles would be the public transport of the future. Fantastic, but this will depend on guaranteed coverage in the areas in which they are intended to operate.

To give one example, public transport has been declining in parts of rural Dorset (a sparsely populated part of south-west England) for years, but the most affected areas (with the least frequent services) are also those with some of the poorest network coverage. Presenters at conferences may glibly promise autonomous public transportation as a remedy to declining investment, but who will ensure that the necessary coverage is in place?

Will the public transportation companies take responsibility for this? Will MNOs take the risk of investing in such marginal (but essential cases) or will they, instead, focus on those that offer the most, and quickest, profit?

We would bet heavily on the answer. So, will we end up with an urban / rural / remote rural gap that actually increases, not decreases? Such questions remain essential because many 5G use cases serve public, not private needs. While the progress reported above offers promise, more needs to be done to ensure coverage to deliver the desired services actually work.