5G Country by Country

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First, a few updates.

Feb 24 Xi Jinping told the Politburo “To prop up support for … 5G networks and industrial Internet.” China Unicom and China Telecom committed to deploying 250,000 sites between July & September. 

To put that in perspective, in 3 months the two companies, working together, will deploy about as many sites as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint have, in total, 4G & 5G. China Mobile is set for another 200,000. Q4 construction will raise the total. 5G will be part of China’s massive stimulus.

There’s a huge unknown in the U.S. The Sprint spectrum is golden. 2.5 GHz has enough reach to cover ?80% of the U.S. without adding towers. The budget, manpower, towers & equipment is available. If CTO Neville Ray moves quickly, AT&T and Verizon will have to follow and the U.S. will be a strong #2 in 5G subscribers. If the merger process holds things up, this may be in 2021. Meanwhile, low-band is proving slower than 4G. It shouldn’t be called 5G but consumers don’t know the difference.

Feb 22 Eir now offers 5G to 25% of Ireland. Why are DT & BT so far behind? Apple upped chip orders by 50%. With the $399 iPhone and 5G in the fall, Apple expects a blowout year. Ronan Dunne of Verizon expects a rush to 5G with the iPhone, which should speed up deployments.

Feb 7 If production gets back to normal by the end of Feb, the natural drop in 5G subs will be 10-15 million. China has a large economic stimulus planned. If 5G is included, the lost ground could be recovered. But the best epidemiologists are not sure the pandemic won’t continue longer. If so, supply chains could break and the world go into recession. The slowdown in 5G – and much else – could be severe.

Korea added only 313,000 5G users in December, half the August total. It missed the 5 million year end 2019 goal. The 15 million projection for the end of 2020 is now uncertain.

Verizon has delayed its 5G mmWave buildout by 1-3 years. Viavi, whose test equipment is used in most 5G networks, sees very limited growth in 5G networks in 2020 outside of Asia.

5G offers few benefits to consumers, who may be becoming disillusioned. It’s reasonable to reduce the surprise-free projection from 210 million to 195 million, but the data is not yet clear.

January 27 Coronavirus has much of China in lockdown. We all hope and pray that the number of infected peaks rapidly. If not, it could have a profound effect on 5G phone production and coverage expansion. Update Feb 2 The NY Times now estimates over 100,000 people are infected, with only the most severely infected showing up in the official counts.

Except for China and Korea, no country has discussed firm plans for 2020. Almost no company has public projections, either of deployment or subscriber count. To create my scenarios, I put together the best available information, especially on deployment. Improvements always welcome. daveb@dslprime.com

Where will the customers be?

China is almost certain to have 150 million, likely ten times as many as any other country. South Korea expects 30% of the population to subscribe, about 15 million.

Almost all other nations will be much lower, despite the near-universal claims of companies they are moving ahead rapidly.

For an overview of 5G in 2020, 5G 2020 Predictions: Surprising and surprise free 195-210 million, Low 165M, High 265M It’s a 5,000 word analysis report. This country by country adds to the analysis.


70%-80% of 5G in 2020 will be in Asia, mostly in China. The governments of China and Korea decided 5G is important and the telcos are responding. Many technical problems remain to be solved, but the two countries have demonstrated the systems are ok for massive deployments. Japan will become a factor later in 2020. India is the great unknown, because of its population and troubled telecom sector.

China 160 million (See updates above on the impact of Corona.)

The Minister directed China Mobile to sign up 70 million. China Telecom & Unicom are expected to add a combined 80 million. Giant China Broadcast is just starting to build but should be a factor. Corona is slowing sales, but the huge stimulus coming should catch things up.

Most Westerners think that growth that rapid is impossible, but the Chinese have often achieved the “impossible.” The 3 telcos added over 300 million full fiber to the home customers in 3 years. That was about twice the total of the rest of the world.

China sells about 400 million phones per year. Prices for 5G phones have already fallen to $285 (Xiaomi.) In the second half of the year, prices may fall to $150 or so. It’s not unreasonable that half the buyers will choose 5G.

As phone prices continue to fall, China should add hundreds of millions in 2021 and 2022. 500 million are likely to choose 5G by the end of 2022. The figure could be higher.

5G with a moderate data allowance costs about $18, similar to 4G. #3 China Unicom sees a great opportunity to gain market share and is offering initial discounts as low as $12. The others are matching the prices. Phone subsidies are modest

The telcos have installed almost 130,000 bases, offering service to about 10% of the population. They are ready to add 400,000 more in 2020. China Tower has over 2 million sites, shared by the carriers to bring down the cost. Most new radios are upgrades to existing sites, relatively inexpensive and rapidly deployed.

China Telecom and Unicom are doing a joint build in 200 MHz of mid-band spectrum. They will be ready with enough capacity to meet government goals. If sales are below target, they will almost certainly increase promotion to meet targets.

Huawei now makes most of the components of its radios. Ren says it could deliver 1,500,000 radios. ZTE is in full production of 5G radios. Datang/Fiberhome is ready. China allocates at least 10% of the orders to Ericsson & Nokia. A share of the Chinese market was guaranteed to the Europeans after the EU threatened to block Huawei in Europe.

The phone makers are confident they can meet the demand. A possible chokepoint is the fabs that make the chips. Only TSMC and Samsung are able to produce the 7-nanometer chips required. Both are increasing capacity as rapidly as possible.

The money is available. China Mobile has cut capex from RMB 187 billion (USD 27 billion) to RMB 166 in 2019. Simply restoring that cut would finance 10,000 more radios. China Unicom spent RMB 61 in 2017 but projects RMB 58 in 2019.

Conclusion: The 150 million goal is highly likely to be met and 160 million reasonable, unless corona interferes. The CEOs could be fired if they don’t meet the target and will try to over-fulfill. China Broadcast will add a fourth player with resources.

Korea 15 million (See updates above. December was very disappointing.)

Two decades ago, Korea pulled ahead of the US in broadband and acquired a reputation as a technology leader. They are doing the same in 5G.

Korea had the first real 5G offering, reaching half the country and 2 million subscribers by the summer. In mid-November, the three telcos had 4.2 million customers and coverage of better than 75% of the country.

They are on track for 5 million 5G customers by the end of 2019, about 10% of the country.

The carriers have set a 15 million goal for 2020, about 30% of the population. SK, under government pressure, has agreed to lower prices by the summer. With the networks largely in place already, this is a reasonable goal.

Samsung is a dominant part of the Korean economy and is spending $17 billion/year to stay at the forefront of technology. It actually was the first to invest in 5G under Jerry Pi in 2011. LG was one of the first with 5G phones.

Conclusion: 15 million is highly likely

South and East Asia and Australia

Japan 5 million

Japanese telcos have not released plans for 5G, other than a start in the spring before the 2020 Olympics. NTT DOCOMO CTO Seizu Onoe is an expert’s expert who has taught me a great deal.

With sufficient investment, Onoe can build an excellent network. So far, the company has not been spending. Capex is down 14% in the last six months. That’s probably a mistake.

Rakuten, the new fourth network, is deploying across the country. Tariq Amin has designed what may prove the most advanced network in the world, entirely software-defined. He expects costs will be 30% to 50% lower than legacy systems. Rakuten prices will be low to win market share.

Rakuten has turned on part of the network in 4G mode, a little late. It’s not clear when it will upgrade to 5G, originally scheduled for the first half of 2020.

When a fourth carrier was imminent in Canada & Italy, the incumbents peremptorily cut prices. The Japanese holding prices high. DOCOMO’s capex cut is a dangerous gamble.

South Asia

Slews of trials are underway but I have no hard data. The carriers and governments are making bold promises, but the actual builds are very limited. Conclusion: Surprises possible

India ?2-4 million

Economic Times expects 5G auctions and phones in the first half of 2020, but the opposition of giant telcos Bharti and Vodafone Idea may result in minimal practical results this year.

Vodafone’s CEO Nick Read has said the Indian branch is insolvent and will shut down without a government bailout. That’s nonsense; the network is in place and has hundreds of millions of customers. The Indian government would find a way to keep it alive, perhaps something akin to the US chapter 11 process. Bharti is also under intense financial pressure and wants to hold off.

However, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio is willing to move ahead quickly. It is ready to turn on 5G in parts of the country within 90 days of being given spectrum and permission. The Samsung-supplied 4G network has equipment that would require only modest upgrades for 5G.

Jio has ~400 million 4G customers, more than the entire population of the United States. If 1% of Jio’s 4G subscribers convert to 5G, that would be 4 million. Once India begins in earnest, it will quickly reach tens of millions.

5G is inherently less expensive per bit than 4G and would bring new spectrum into use. India is the only country in the world seriously spectrum constrained, especially given the modest number of towers. Jio has tremendous incentive to use 5G to increase capacity.

Fearful politicians could hold India’s 5G to a very modest figure in 2020. Courageous politicians could make India a major world prescense in 5G. 

Conclusion: Totally unclear 2020. Likely very large by 2022 or 2023.

Australia ?2 million

Both Telstra and Optus are actively selling 5G. Optus has 300 cells live and promises 1200 by March 2020. Neither has provided subscriber numbers or 2020 estimates. Vodafone will begin 5G in the first half of 2020.

There’s no reason 10% of Australia’s 24 million people couldn’t be connected to 5G by yearend, especially as phone prices come down. 10% of Koreans subscribed in the first year. Australia is a very rich country. GDP per capita is about 60% higher than in Korea.

Do the Aussies have the political will? I don’t know. Conclusion: 2 or 4 million are definitely possible but not guaranteed.


Vietnam has ambitious plans. It already has 95% 4G from state-owned Mobifone. Viettel is a robust multinational carrier with ambitions, including producing its own equipment. It’s doing trials in Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia as well. Conglomerate Vingroup has announced it would manufacture its own 5G phone with impressive specifications.

Slews of trials are underway but I have no hard data. Conclusion: Surprises possible

Philippines ?1 million

A new third carrier, backed by China Telecom, has inspired incumbents Globe and PLDT to increase investment. None have provided more than vague indications of 2020 5G. Conclusion: Essentially unknown


The 272 million Indonesians have 330 million mobile subscriptions, but over 100 million are still using 2G. Association of Indonesian Cellular Operators (ATSI) chairman Ririek Adriansyah expects little before 2022. Axiata didn’t even mention 5G in the latest quarterly call. Conclusion: Years away.

Thailand A spectrum auction is scheduled for February. Telcos, reluctant to invest, are trying to postpone it. None of the telcos has discussed a rapid buildout after the auction,

Malaysia The government is demanding a meaningful deployment in the second half of 2020. Celcom Axiata and Maxis have agreed to a joint build.

Myanmar The country is doing remarkably well for one of the poorest states on earth. 4G LTE coverage is about 90%. The carriers see more potential, as much of the population is not connected or has voice-only phones. They are competing hard.

The odds are against a fast 5G buildout, but it might be a productive strategy. Viettel, which will do a great deal of 5G in Vietnam, may seize an advantage.

Pakistan Dr. Khawar Siddique Khokhar, a member of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, believes, “Pakistan will not be able to launch 5G before 2023.”

He is mistaken. While infrastructure is poor in many areas, it is perfectly fine in others. Microwave, easier to install and usually cheaper, can replace fiber for backhaul. Especially in the cities, millions can be served at a reasonable cost. Lack of political will is the primary obstacle.

China Mobile in China is building the largest 5G network in the world at a ferocious rate. It owns Zong, the #3 carrier. #4,

Ufone, belongs to Etisalat. The parent has already covered 80% of the population of the UAE. Both are far behind the leaders, Telenor and Jazz/Veon. Even a modest deployment of 5G, perhaps 10% of the country, would win customers and position a carrier as the most advanced. That’s a natural strategy for Zong or Ufone. Conclusion: Probably not in 2020 or 2021.

However, neither has given any indication it will build before 2023.

Singapore Initial rollouts of 2 networks are expected in 2020 with half the population covered by 2022.

Bangladesh, Nepal, and other countries could begin 5G in 2020. There is no mystical transformation required. Their telcos could bring in one of the five international vendors and be running in months. That doesn’t look likely in 2020.

West Asia/Middle East

The Emirates are 60%-80% covered, probably second only to Korea. Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain are also rapidly extending coverage. Both the countries and the companies are looking for prestige. Several million are likely to sign up in 2020, but none of these countries has a large population.

Saudi Arabia is also rapidly upgrading to 5G. It would not be surprising if 10% of Saudia Arabia’s 31 million people quickly acquired 5G phones.

Turkey’s 80 million people are served by telcos whose technical people are internationally respected. None of the companies have made any public commitments to 5G in 2020, however. Trials have begun and pr in 2020 will be extensive. I have no evidence of large deployments in 2020.

Iran’s technical ability is widely underestimated in the West. A friend at Stanford told me many of his best graduate students have come from Shiraz University. Many top communications engineers are of Iranian origin. It still has one of the strongest industrial sectors in the Muslim world. If it weren’t for international politics, Iran’s 80 million people would be well served with communications.

Israel has the income and the technical ability to deliver 5G to most of its 8 million people but has few public plans.

Egypt has a strong industrial base but few 5G plans announced.

Algeria and Tunisia have done 5G testing but neither they nor other North Africans appear close to a substantial rollout.

North America

Verizon is the only carrier in the world committed to a large millimeter wave 5G network, intending to make service available to about 30 million homes, about a quarter of the US. AT&T has a modest mmWave build and T-Mobile a very small one. Both are going wide with “low-band 5G,” which is slower than decent 4G. Here’s a draft analysis that I believe will prove on target. More to come.

Sidebar, Feb 24 As T-Mobile Goes, So Goes American 5G: When Will it Use the 2.5 GHz Golden Spectrum? (Draft)

If T-Mobile moves quickly, it could cover 80% of the U.S. with 5G at hundreds of megabits by the end of 2021. It will probably require several months to re-organize after the merger and the major impact may be in 2021. T-Mobile may pause but won’t stop.

The money is budgeted; to get approval to buy Sprint, T-Mobile agreed to maintain capex at the level of the two companies combined, about $10 billion/year. That’s enough to upgrade 20,000 sites a year and cover more than half the country extremely quickly. Verizon and AT&T would almost have to respond. (This is over-simplified but I believe correct.)

Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum is golden because it has excellent reach. Most of the country can be covered without adding new towers. The 64 small antennas of Massive MIMO mean that 2.5 GHz has reach comparable to 1800 MHz and possibly better.

The towers are available. Adding Sprint gives T-Mobile more towers than it can put to use. Originally, T-Mobile intended to keep 10,000 and retire 35,000. Many of the latter are on 5-year contracts. 

The contractors have the capacity to meet that target. They were startled when T-Mo stopped building in December after the companies had staffed up. They’d love the work. Ericsson & probably Nokia are ready to ship the equipment. Sprint brings Samsung to the table. The equipment is available.

U.S. 5G 2020

Verizon was the pioneer in millimeter wave 5G, which delivers a true gigabit to most customers. It refuses to reveal coverage or subscribers, only making the near-meaningless claim of “30 cities.” I believe the mmWave coverage is more extensive than announced and expect more of it to be turned on in early 2020. Subscribers probably will reach the low millions.

CEO of Verizon Consumer Ronan Dunne has confirmed the mmWave will continue, but that the majority of Verizon’s customers will only be offered lower bands at “good 4G speeds.” Ronan spoke at a major Wall Street event but his comments have been little supported.

Verizon has promised to cover half the U.S. with “5G” by the summer. Most of it will be low-band.

Verizon has told Wall Street it will actively sell fixed wireless against cable in the 3/4ths of the U.S. where it doesn’t have landlines. It is pricing at $50-70 and some customers reach gigabit speeds. Goldman Sachs believes that about a quarter of the 30 million homes passed will choose fixed wireless over cable, about 8 million. A colleague offered to bet me that figure wouldn’t be reached but I wasn’t confident enough to take the bet.

Verizon and DT are the only companies in the West that have turned on a modest Edge network. Neither has confirmed more than a minimum Edge deployment but I believe both have a substantial number of Edge servers soon to turn on.

I’ve learned that Verizon is rolling out “dozens” of mid-band CBRS radios every week. This may be the first public report.

Sprint actually has the largest 5G network in the West. It has 160 MHz of golden spectrum at 2.5 GHz and rapidly built out to about 8% of the country. It is holding back pending a final decision on the merger with T-Mobile, expected in two or three months.

VP Ryan Sullivan promised Sprint would offer phones at $300-500, similar to the prices already available in China. That will kickstart demand.

Whether as an independent Sprint or part of T-Mobile, the right strategy will be to very rapidly offer mid-band to 60-80% of the U.S. That can be done simply by upgrading existing towers, a relatively inexpensive move. That would give Sprint or T-Mobile the largest mid-band or mmWave network in the Western world.

AT&T has made contradictory comments about its 5G plans. It does have (very small) mmWave deployments in 35 cities, but the total coverage appears very modest. It will turn on low-band to over 200 million early in 2020.

CEO Randall Stephenson has said AT&T will offer fixed wireless over mmWave widely, but I believe it is holding back.

T-Mobile opened part of New York with mmWave but nearly all the rest of the country is being served by low-band at 4G speeds, 25-150 megabits. It has nationwide 600 MHz spectrum with good reach and offers low-band to over 200 million.

CEO Neville Ray deprecated mmWave until T-Mobile spent a billion dollars in 2019 for mmWave spectrum. He now says it’s ideal for dense areas.

If the Sprint merger goes through, it will rapidly offer mid-band to the majority of the country.

Starry is little known outside the U.S. but claims it will offer 5G fixed wireless throughout dozens of cities. It’s live in Boston with a 200 meg symmetrical service for $50. Because it has raised $200 million, some people are paying attention.

It’s actually doing wireless to the rooftop of apartment buildings and then wiring inside the building. The wireless backhaul is a souped-up Wi-Fi running in mmWave spectrum. The competition would be welcome but few are convinced it will be profitable after customer acquisition costs. To be proven.

CSpire is a regional wireless carrier in the U.S. South. It is offering fixed service using point to multipoint radios from Mimosa which it calls 5G.

Conclusion: I do not consider networks that run at 4G speeds 5G, i.e. “low-band 5G” is a misnomer. Not counting low-band, the U.S. should probably have 7-10 million 5G subs, mostly depending on how aggressively Sprint or T-Mobile/Sprint move.


The three national Canadian telcos will turn on 5G in spring 2020. Telus and Bell Canada share a network and will have similar offerings. Rogers has begun testing.

None of the companies has provided concrete estimates of coverage or subscribers. Telus in particular is very strong technically. It’s Vancouver Living Lab is a showcase and strongly supported by Huawei.

The three companies have reached a comfortable accommodation for the last few years, presumably by public signaling rather than obviously illegal meetings. They could reach an understanding to continue going slow on 5G. Otherwise, most of Canada’s 37 million people will switch rapidly to 5G.


Mostly to come. A few thoughts:

Eir in Ireland has just turned on 5G to 25% of the country, far ahead of other Europeans. European carriers are either going very slowly or basically just doing testing and issuing pr. None have publicly claimed they will reach even 10% of their territory in the first half of 2020.

Everything except Swisscom is mid-band, with typical speeds of 50-400 Mbps. Several carriers, including Vodafone and BT in Britain, have less than the ideal 100 MHz of mid-band spectrum.

Swisscom impressed many of us with the promise of 5G to 90% of the country in 2019. In December, it became clear most of the country is being served with 2100, with low-band speeds similar to 4G because of limited spectrum.

Sunrise in Switzerland has provided mid-band 5G to hundreds of smaller cities and towns. It is offering fixed wireless in territories where Swisscom does not have fiber. The initial results are good.

More to come


Except for Rain in South Africa, no African carrier has concrete plans to go beyond trials, tests, and pr in 2020. Rain is using 5G to offer fixed wireless.

Sub-Saharan Africa has remarkably few landlines. Without additional capacity, the caps are low and the service often too expensive to watch many videos. The African Internet experience is very limited and not close to the normal European or Chinese Internet experience.

Many, including almost all carriers, have said that Africa is not ready for 5G. That’s unfortunate because no part of the world has a greater need for the capacity. 100 MHz channels in mid-band 2.5-4.2 GHz with Massive MIMO can more than double Africa’s capacity. This could be served with 4G or 5G, but no carrier anywhere is using 4G.

The vendors have inexpensive 5G equipment, however. Huawei is considering offering 5G mid-band gear in Africa at a price so low it will be an attractive offering. The Chinese banks and government under the “Belt & Road” initiative are providing generous financing.

Huawei, ZTE, or Datang, with government support, could offer 4G/5G mid-band equipment and transform the African Internet experience.

The U.S. has been discussing export financing as a weapon against Chinese dominance. Several smaller U.S. companies, such as Mavenir and Altiostar, are offering software based radios for 4G and soon 5G. The only substantial Altiostar deployment, Rakutan in Japan, is behind schedule for now. But Vodafone & Deutsche Telekom are optimistic about the new vendors based on testing.

The small U.S. companies have a long way to go but with government support might succeed. I’m trying to convince D.C. of that.

Latin America and the Carribean

Antel in Uruguay has installed 5G equipment from Nokia and claims to offer commercial service. But the website has no details or actual offerings. American Movil/Telmex on the financial call said it would offer 5G by the end of 2020 in all its countries. There is no evidence it will be substantial in any territory.

Telefonica Brazil is investing billions in fiber to the home. It clearly has the technical and financial ability to begin 5G deployments, at least in the affluent south of the country.

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  1. […] 2020 Predictions: Surprising and surprise free 195-210 million, Low 165M, High 265M and 5G Country by Country. Both are full scale, detailed analysis reports also released under a creative commons […]


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