5G 2020 Country Review

In August 2019, early data from Korea and China convinced me that predictions for 5G in 2019 were much too low. In September, I published 5G 2020 Predictions: Surprising and surprise free 195-205 million, Low 175M, High 230M, also much higher than others. China had announced 600,000 cells and 150 million subscribers for 2020 and I chose to believe them. I reviewed plans in two dozen countries and produced this “Country Review.” I then did 5G 2020-2025: Surprise Free, Low & High Estimates.

Share freely. All use the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License CC BY-NC

Update June 18

If it’s slower than 4G, is it really 5G? AT&T and Deutsche Telekom have each revealed they have covered about 1/3rd of their country with “low-band 5G.” They refuse to answer questions about speed or latency, but they almost surely are slower than decent 4G today. It’s 4G LTE with “5G NR software,” which does very little below 2 GHz. Don’t believe the hype!

Not long ago, Telekom Germany boss Dirk Wössner did not consider low-band truly 5G but the marketing people have won. Consumers rarely know the difference and most reporters are too lazy to ask what the real speeds are. Regulators are turning a blind eye so they can claim progress on 5G.

Unfortunately, that means any analysis of 5G in the U.S. or Europe from now on will be somewhere between confusing and wildly misleading. Including mine, although I’ll do my best not to include low-band in my numbers.

If you don’t believe me, ask any engineer building a network anywhere in the world. Software can’t yield much more speed in low-band without breaking the laws of physics.

Update June 14

MIIT has confirmed the Chinese telcos are exaggerating their number of 5G users. The real number is closer to 50 million rather than the 75 million claimed as “contracts” See No 5G Phone? China May Count You as 5G Anyway. I have not lowered my 2020 estimate of worldwide 5G subs. MIIT also raised planned 2020 5G actual users to 180 million. Telco CEOs get fired if they don’t meet quotas so they will find a way. The 30% price cut and low phone prices should do the trick.

Intel has a 5G cloud-native core working, according to a well-informed European. So does Cisco.

Update June 10

I have restored the December 2019 “surprise-free” of 210 million. 15 million 5G phones were sold in China in May, almost half of total phone sales. 618 holiday sale prices for a 5G Xiaomi Redmi 10X are US$198. A Huawei Honor phone was promoted at US$148 but sold out almost immediately.

Apple will begin volume production of 5G iPhones in July (Digitimes.) Rumors persist sales will be limited until late in the year, however. Verizon and others expect very strong sales when the 5G iPhones is available.

The three Chinese carriers have lowered the basic price of 5G from ~US$18 to ~US$13.

Update June 3

5G phone prices are down to US$228 in China (Xiaomi Redmi 10X) and $266 (Huawei Honor X10.)

Chinese government support will grow 5G in 2020 to ~150 million, but elsewhere buyers are holding back. Korea has fallen from 800,000/month to 500,000/month. With 5G prices this low, however, I’m confident sales will pick up.

5G has few practical advantages over decent 4G, which runs at an average of 75 Mbps in Canada already. What fails at 75 Mbps and succeeds at 200 Mbps? Latency is typically 25-40 ms, not that much better than 4G 30-55 ms. After a year, not one major new use case is even close.

Applied Materials, the largest producer of chipmaking equipment, is considering moving production from Texas to Singapore to get around U.S. China sanctions.

Update May 24

Japan is finally moving, with NTT setting a goal of 2.5 million within a year. Japan: Soon Millions of 5G Users Rakuten’s software-based network isn’t working yet for 5G; when it does, expect rapid growth. KDDI made a point of charging the same price for 5G as for 4G. Almost no carrier is finding demand for 5G at higher prices, except maybe in Korea.

U.S. 3.4 million 5G phones sold in Q1. That’s a remarkable figure, because none of the U.S. 5G networks except Sprint were any good.

U.S. buyers of $1,000+ S20 phones are thinking ahead. 93% of the 3.4 million 5G phones sold in the first three months in the U.S. were Samsung S20’s, the first three bars in the illustration. Other phones were only 7%. T-Mobile is now offering an OnePlus and an LG for $700, so will not continue that dominant. Apple 5G won’t be out until late fall.

I’m guessing that Verizon pushed premium buyers to the Samsung 5G and they were willing to spend the extra. One reason my estimate for 5G in 2020 is probably the highest in the world is I believe that many will choose 5G phones as the price gap narrows. 

Phones: In Europe, 5G phone prices are down to 400 euros. In China, many are under US$300 and falling. The difference between 4G and 5G phones may be as little as $50-75. 90% of Korea is covered with 5G. 50% of China will be covered yearend and most of the U.S. and probably Japan in 2021. In those countries, 5G phones are or soon will be the right choice for all but the poor. Most people keep phones 3-5 years.
The market isn’t large enough to support the first ten vendors but Meizu, Sony, and Lenovo are jumping in. Despite low prices, phone sales are continuing to fall even after reopening. China’s April sales were encouraging, however.

India: Bharti and Vodafone are using politics to hold off 5G, although Jio is ready to go and scale massively. Phone prices are already low enough for many Indians to choose 5G phones. Because of the 1.4 billion Indians, the 5G numbers in India will rapidly pass most other countries as deployment widens.

China: The government has confirmed 5G as a major part of the massive “New Infrastructure” spending. The goal of 500,000 cells upgraded in 2020 is likely to be exceeded. 10,000 5G cells are added every week. China is on track for 500,000 5G base station yearend, covering about half the country. 200,000 have already been deployed, despite COVID-19. 
150 million and possibly 200 million 5G “contracts” will be sold this year. However, China Mobile’s announcement of “50 million contracts” in Q1 is deceptive. That’s more than the total of 5G phones sold. I assume what’s happening is that people with 4G phones are renewing at the 5G level because the price is the same.

Korea is behind target, as the carriers heavily reduced subsidies. The 1.08 million new 5G subscribers in the first quarter

Europe is so far behind that no carrier is willing to release customer figures. Xavier Niel’s Eir has covered 25% of Ireland. No other company has reported even 10% coverage, except for the second-rate “low-band” 5G. Xavi is ready to go with 5G in France but Martin Bouygues is begging ARCEP to continue delaying.
Telefonica had been intending to use mmWave to grow fixed wireless in Germany. They aren’t going forward yet, possibly because the deal to share Vodafone’s cable network is cheaper.
Telefonica and Vodafone, challengers to the incumbents, had a natural business strategy of moving aggressively with mmWave and coverage. The technical people were strongly in favor. Management has refused, presumably because they fear the incumbent Empires will strike back. Both are also keeping capex down to keep the stock price and their bonuses up.

Monthly prices: KDDI and others are finding customers are resisting higher prices for 5G. Even proud Verizon is not collecting a premium, as T-Mobile continues to win customers. Korea’s government is pressuring the telcos to bring down prices.
5G capex and cost is about the same as 4G and capacity is much greater. In a competitive market, price per bit would be falling rapidly.

IoT: 5G was never going to be important for IoT because it has few improvements over 4G IoT. 5G can support a million IoT connections per cell but so far no applications have needed more than 4G can support. 90%+ of IoT will continue Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, including our 11 devices.
Cellular IoT has an advantage where the receivers are widely dispersed (meter reading) or outside (cars.) Enrique Blanco, Telefonica CTO, points out that all current IoT requirements can be met with 4G and the NSA core. (He’s optimistic about demand for the SA core in a few years.)

Autonomous cars: Although extraordinarily exciting. autonomous cars will not be an important market for 5G for at least 5-10 years. All cars will be connected, for Waze-like apps and much more. The traffic could be substantial but not more than 4G can handle.

5G SA core: Suddenly, telcos are moving to the 5G SA core. It could be they think there’s a strong market for QoS/network slicing. National security agencies are interested, but few others seem close to orders. (Think real-time facial recognition on a crowd the size of New Year’s in Times Square.) More likely, the CTOs have become converts to the cloud-native, microservice designs possible in the 5G core. That significantly eases the transition to network functions virtualization. Rakuten’s early success with a software-defined, fully cloud-native system is convincing evidence the new software architecture can work.
Ericsson is delivering a US$400 million SA core to China Mobile, as are Huawei and ZTE. It’s expected by year-end.

Fake 5G”: Ericsson and Nokia are demoing software to use small amounts of low-band 4G spectrum for 5G NR. The performance is nearly identical to 4G. Although the companies at 3GPP agreed to call anything with NR software “5G,” I consider it faking. Verizon, Swisscom, and now Deutsche Telekom are advertising 5G coverage in areas they can only deliver 4G speeds.

Update April 15

Jennie and I are 200 meters from the tent hospital in Central Park but healthy and well supplied.

The surprise free estimate for 2020 is now 195-205 million, as China and the U.S. are accelerating construction. China, Korea, U.S., and Japan expect a minimum of 175 million 5G subs by year-end.

China and the U.S. will be the main contributers

The Chinese Politburo has confirmed that 5G is central to the massive recovery stimulus. China Mobile as well as the China Unicorn and Telecom team have ordered 200,000 base stations each. Amazingly, they have pulled up the schedule and expect 600,000 site upgrades by yearend. The telcos have promised 150 million subscriptions by December.

First quarter 5G phone sales in China were about 15 million, so it will require a huge push from the carriers to meet that goal. Almost twice as many “5G contracts” were sold, presumably reflecting people renewing at the 5G level, planning to buy the phone later. 4G and 5G contracts cost about the same, so that’s reasonable. I have no confirmation.

I’d expect an extra US$4-10 billion in subsidies will carry the day and save the jobs of the CEOs. The telcos have $200 billion in annual revenues so can finance the additional marketing cost. The government can indirectly cover it by reducing the pressure on the telcos to reduce prices.

In the U.S., T-Mobile has the golden 160 MHz of spectrum at 2.5 GHz and is building the highest capacity network in the Western world. They plan to sell aggressively this summer. Verizon has raised its capex by a billion in response. It is expecting the iPhone 5G to create demand in the fall if it is released on time. Competition is working to drive the U.S. market in 2020 & 2021.

T-Mobile should cover 80-85% of the U.S. with mid-band 5G at well over 100 Mbps in about three years. Verizon and AT&T have no choice but to respond. Stankey at AT&T has already said he will fire employees and borrow money to maintain capex and especially dividends.

The next two years of U.S. wireless growth will be driven by how fast T-Mobile builds and markets.

Korea and possibly Japan will also contribute

Korea had an amazing start, adding over 800,000 5G users in August alone. The telcos predicted 5 million in 2020 and 15 million – 30% of the country – in 2021. The Korean miracle is faltering. January and February 5G phone sales were half the August figure. The companies agreed to reduce phone subsidies, which were above $500. Consumers are disillusioned, the papers report, as they discover 5G phones have few practical advantages. Andrew Collison has warned that disillusioned consumers could reduce demand, a factor that cannot be ignored. 15 million now looks unlikely in the aftermath of Corona.

Japan has an affluent population of 126 million and a taste for the best electronics. NTT DOCOMO has some of the most respected engineers in telecom and had ambitious plans for 5G at the Olympics. The new 4th carrier, Rakuten, promised 5G at a very attractive price.

Now, the Olympics are in 2021. Rakuten is six month behind schedule and only offering 4G. DOCOMO, KDDI, and Softbank have only modest 5G builds and refuse to provide projections. There’s no good way to estimate 2020 or even 2021 5G subscriptions.

Europe and others continue to lag

The Europeans are moving very slowly as their finances are squeezed. At both Telefonica and Vodafone, the technical leaders want to accelerate the 5G build. The technology is ready. The CEOs of carriers continue to refuse to spend. They fear the incumbents empires will strike back, leaving little gain.

My analysis is this is a mistake. Networks are slow to build. The aggressive challenger will have an advantage initially and can develop an image as the leader. Verizon has long been one of the most profitable companies on Earth. It perceived as better and able to charge a premium. The folks who sign the checks in Europe disagree with me.

No regulator has shown the courage to demand the carriers invest in a national recovery.

There are bright spots in a few small countries. Ireland is 25% covered. Qatar has 100,000 subscribers. But Latin America and South Asia have annouced little of substance for 2020.

A dozen phones from $285-500

I’ve been predicting since December a sharp drop in phone prices and that’s become so. The $285 Xiaomi, announced in December, remains the price leader but every company except Apple has decent 5G phones under $450. Twelve makers are trying to survive while only four or five will be profitable. Prices will continue to fall as chip prices fall. However, the $399_iPhone SE may dominate sales in 2020. Apple services have emerged as a gold mine. That gives Tim Cook strong incentive to sell hundreds of millions more iPhones.

April 15

Jennie and I are 200 meters from the tent hospital in Central Park but healthy and well supplied.

The surprise free estimate for 2020 is now 195-205 million, as China and the U.S. are accelerating construction. China, Korea, U.S., and Japan expect a minimum of 175 million 5G subs by year-end.

China and the U.S. will be the main contributers

The Chinese Politburo has confirmed that 5G is central to the massive recovery stimulus. China Mobile as well as the China Unicorn and Telecom team have ordered 200,000 base stations each. Amazingly, they have pulled up the schedule and expect 600,000 site upgrades by yearend. The telcos have promised 150 million subscriptions by December.

First quarter 5G phone sales in China were about 15 million, so it will require a huge push from the carriers to meet that goal. Almost twice as many “5G contracts” were sold, presumably reflecting people renewing at the 5G level, planning to buy the phone later. 4G and 5G contracts cost about the same, so that’s reasonable. I have no confirmation.

I’d expect an extra US$4-10 billion in subsidies will carry the day and save the jobs of the CEOs. The telcos have $200 billion in annual revenues so can finance the additional marketing cost. The government can indirectly cover it by reducing the pressure on the telcos to reduce prices.

In the U.S., T-Mobile has the golden 160 MHz of spectrum at 2.5 GHz and is building the highest capacity network in the Western world. They plan to sell aggressively this summer. Verizon has raised its capex by a billion in response. It is expecting the iPhone 5G to create demand in the fall if it is released on time. Competition is working to drive the U.S. market in 2020 & 2021.

T-Mobile should cover 80-85% of the U.S. with mid-band 5G at well over 100 Mbps in about three years. Verizon and AT&T have no choice but to respond. Stankey at AT&T has already said he will fire employees and borrow money to maintain capex and especially dividends.

The next two years of U.S. wireless growth will be driven by how fast T-Mobile builds and markets.

Korea and Japan will also contribute

Korea had an amazing start, adding over 800,000 5G users in August alone. The telcos predicted 5 million in 2020 and 15 million – 30% of the country – in 2021. The Korean miracle is faltering. January and February 5G phone sales were half the August figure. The companies agreed to reduce phone subsidies, which were above $500. Consumers are disillusioned, the papers report, as they discover 5G phones have few practical advantages. Andrew Collison has warned that disillusioned consumers could reduce demand, a factor that cannot be ignored. 15 million now looks unlikely in the aftermath of Corona.

Japan has an affluent population of 126 million and a taste for the best electronics. NTT DOCOMO has some of the most respected engineers in telecom and had ambitious plans for 5G at the Olympics. The new 4th carrier, Rakuten, promised 5G at a very attractive price.

NTT DOCOMO has set a goal of 2.5 million 5G connections in the next year. It expects 20 million in 2022 or 2023.  It has 500 upgraded towers and rapidly will cover more than half the country. 40,000 signed up in the first few weeks. 

Capex guidance for the year is 570 billion yen, US$5.35 billion. That’s far below the 2017 figure of 643 billion yen, $6 billion. That’s consistent with Deutsche Telekom, Verizon, AT&T, and FT/Orange, all building 5G without a significant capex increase. 

Softbank and KDDI also have launched some 5G service. Softbank intends to reach 90% of the population in Q1 2022.  They are doing competitive builds in the cities but working together in rural areas.

Rakuten, the extremely innovative 4th carrier, intended to turn on 5G in June but is behind schedule.

Europe and others continue to lag

The Europeans are moving very slowly as their finances are squeezed. At both Telefonica and Vodafone, the technical leaders want to accelerate the 5G build. The technology is ready. The CEOs of carriers continue to refuse to spend. They fear the incumbents empires will strike back, leaving little gain.

My analysis is this is a mistake. Networks are slow to build. The aggressive challenger will have an advantage initially and can develop an image as the leader. Verizon has long been one of the most profitable companies on Earth. It perceived as better and able to charge a premium. The folks who sign the checks in Europe disagree with me.

No regulator has shown the courage to demand the carriers invest in a national recovery.

There are bright spots in a few small countries. Ireland is 25% covered. Qatar has 100,000 subscribers. But Latin America and South Asia have annouced little of substance for 2020.

A dozen phones from $285-500

I’ve been predicting since December a sharp drop in phone prices and that’s become so. The $285 Xiaomi, announced in December, remains the price leader but every company except Apple has decent 5G phones under $450. Twelve makers are trying to survive while only four or five will be profitable. Prices will continue to fall as chip prices fall. However, the $399_iPhone SE may dominate sales in 2020. Apple services have emerged as a gold mine. That gives Tim Cook strong incentive to sell hundreds of millions more iPhones.

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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 for both 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.

Asia

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

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

Indonesia

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.

Canada

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.

Europe

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

Africa

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.

3 Comments

  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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  2. […] 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 […]

    Reply
  3. […] 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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