The 5G Future: Which Country will Adopt the New Standard First?
According to the GSMA, 5G can be defined as a service-led technology that consolidates all previous versions to provide better, always-on service, and at the same time as an evolution in data transmission speed. Whichever way you look at it, 5G is set to bring high-speed wi-fi that will thrust the Internet of Things into a domain previously considered the realm of science fiction.
What’s more, the race to adopt 5G is truly on – and, as with any race, the winners will be those who get to the finish line first.
To be in with a chance, the competitors need access to a fiber optics network with broad coverage. Furthermore, they need to be focusing on one to 10Gbps connections, one millisecond latency, 1000x bandwidth per area, up 100 times more connected devices, availability close to 100 per cent, a 10 per cent reduction in energy use, and batteries lasting up to 10 years for some devices.
To restate our original question, then: where in the world are all these elements likely to come together first?
According to A GSMA report published in October, the answer is the Middle East and North Africa, where there will be 50 million 5G connections by 2025. Specifically, says the GSMA, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will lead the way by launching the world’s first commercial 5G networks in 2020. This prediction is based on the willingness of these countries to adopt new technologies, support from governments for implementation, and early testing being carried out by telcos such as Etisalat and Ooredoo.
The numbers behind this are impressive: should commercial roll-out happen on schedule, it will bring the total number of mobile users in the region to 399 million (around two-thirds of the population), and raise the telecom industry’s contribution to the regional economy to $200 billion – not to mention increasing the 1 million-plus jobs that the sector provided in 2016. Clearly, if we’re looking at which country uses 5G network technology, there’s a major economic factor to consider.
That’s not to say that the rest of the world is going to be left behind. In South Korea, there are hopes for a combined government and SK Telecom 5G commercial service that could even be road tested at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. China and Japan, too, are in the race to bring 5G to Asia. Both, like South Korea, have set a target of 2020 for commercial roll-out – but it’s unclear whether these countries will beat the Middle Eastern states already mentioned to the finish line.
In Latin America, it is Chile, Uruguay and Brazil that lead the race to become a 5G technology-using country… but what of North America and Europe? Perhaps surprisingly, the commercial 5G future shows the highest level of uncertainty in these regions. True, both expect to be in the game by 2020; but in the US, Verizon’s Roger Gurnani has spoken rather vaguely of “some level of commercial deployment”, while Ovum TMT Intelligence research suggests that 5G subscribers in Europe could, by 2021, amount to less than 10 per cent of the global total due to CSPs delaying roll-out and uncertainty over net neutrality laws in the EU.