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Rapid increase in the launch of commercially available 5G devices pushes hype into overdrive

According to the latest research from independent mobile consultancy Hadden Telecoms, for example, a total of 95 user devices have now been announced by 38 manufacturers. In real terms the number of 5G devices now confirmed has grown 164 per cent in the past 3 months, with the number of manufacturers announcing 5G products increasing 90 per cent in the same period.  

In terms of form factor, 28 of those launches were smartphones, but interestingly 20 modules were launched for automotive use cases, two as drones, two as robots, one as a television, and one for a vending machine… highlighting the prominent role that 5G will play in the development of IoT use cases, such as smart cities, automated vehicles and smart utilities.

“5G-compatible devices have been launched in the market in 11 form factors, and even more device types with 5G connectivity are anticipated in the coming weeks and months as operators accelerate deployments of their 5G networks and commercially launch services in all regions worldwide,” commented Alan Hadden, Director at Hadden Telecoms.

As a comparison, as recently as March 2019, the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) was reporting just 33 commercially launched 5G devices, showing a real acceleration in 5G device growth.

Such statistics provide an important snapshot of the development of the 5G ecosystem as it moves from service trials and prototype-user equipment to commercially available services and devices. Furthermore, unlike early 4G devices, which were generally ‘modems and dongles’, 5G is rapidly being driven by the launch of commercially available smartphones.

According to Haddens’ 5G Market Reality Check, which monitors the status of operator activities in 5G, including deployments and launches of 5G NR networks, the number of commercially launched 5G networks has also doubled in the last three months.

However, hold the hype! While such statistics reveal the 5G ecosystems’ desire to drive the technology, it remains to be seen if that can be converted into real revenue and business use cases. But, more importantly, the majority of 5G devices and networks are still highly reliant on 4G.

The first rollout of 5G networks are non-standalone deployments that focus on enhanced mobile broadband to provide higher data-bandwidth and reliable connectivity. Non-standalone allows operators to retain their core 4G network, without having to immediately overhaul the entire infrastructure to a 5G network, and it’s likely to remain that way for some time to come

According to a 2019 report by GSMA Intelligence only 15 per cent of the world’s mobile connections will be made on 5G by 2025, compared to 59 per cent LTE usage in the same year, meaning that it is likely to complement rather than replace LTE.

"For operators in many parts of the world, LTE is and will be the foundation for the next 10 years at least. LTE speeds are improving, which makes 5G less compelling without new services such as AR/VR,” noted the GSMA report.

While such advances are very real and very welcome for the industry, it would do well to keep its ‘5G feet’ firmly on the ground… at least for some years to come.