$23,000 for 5G Base Stations, $56,000/cell Complete. Quantity 200,000

China Mobile is upgrading over 250,000 cells to 2.5 GHz, 100+ Mbps 5G in 2020. It projects a total capex expenditure for 5G of ~US$14 billion. That’s about US$56,000 per upgraded site. It will reach between 500 million and 700 million Chinese, about half the country. China Telecom and China Unicom are doing a slightly smaller cooperative build at a similar cost.

It is also buying 230,000 base stations for ~US$23,000. Huawei won 55% of the order, ZTE ~30%, Ericsson ~10%, and Datang 5%. Nokia Shanghai Bell was shut out.

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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.

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February Need to Know: Corona, iPhone blowout 2020, $8B German FTTH, U.S. Lifeline cuts, 370M 4G at Jio India

Corona is already the worst epidemic of the last thirty years. The best scientists in the world aren’t sure when it will be brought under control. My brother, a Professor of Emergency Medicine, is hopeful of control soon, but isn’t certain.

If contained, cell phones sales will be down 40-70 million in Q1, including a reduction of >10 million in the China 5G plan. Many stores are closed and people worldwide holding back. The supply chain is already struggling. Let us all hope Corona does not get worse, which would produce total havoc in our connected world.

Apple expects a blowout 2020, upping chip orders by 50% (Digitimes) The $399 SE phone may miss its March date but is coming soon, Apple’s biggest profits are now coming from a cut of the store games & apps. Dropping price will yield more buyers for the services.

iPhone 5G in the fall should also be humungous. More than half of the premium phone buyers ib the West go Apple and will probably rush in. Verizon is racing to have 5G ready when the iPhone comes out.

Deutsche Glasfiber raised $8B for 6 million fiber homes passed.

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Coronavirus Matters – But Numbers are Uncertain

The best epidemiologists are not sure when the pandemic will be controlled. That makes it impossible to provide an accurate estimate of the effect on telecom and 5G.

If production gets back to normal by the end of Feb, the natural drop in 5G subs will be 10-15 million. I’ve reduced my “surprise-free” 2020 projection from 210 million to 195 million because of corona and the slowdown in December in Korea. I have too little data to be confident.

China has a large economic stimulus planned. If 5G is included, the lost ground could be recovered. World leadership in 5G is important in China and it may choose to get back on track.

If production limits extend past February, the impact will likely be large. Supply chains could break and the world could go into recession. The slowdown in 5G – and much else – could be severe.

Does Korea Slowdown Mean 5G Demand is Falling?

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 5G users in Korea at the end of 2020 is now uncertain.

Phone subsidies have been cut sharply from the $400-600 earlier in the year. Coverage, at over 80%, is the highest in the world but the 90% target for yearend has been missed. The Korean press has been reporting reliability problems, even in Seoul.

One month is not enough to prove a trend. However, I have a few other data points that are making me wonder about demand.

Verizon has delayed its 5G buildout by 1-3 years. Last year, it predicted significant 5G revenue in 2020. Hans Vestberg on the financial call put that off until 2021. The build is also slowing. Verizon’s original plan was to cover about a quarter of the U.S. with mmWave by 2022. It has now pushed that back to 2024-2025. 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. Alternatively, these holdbacks may be an exception. It’s reasonable to reduce the surprise-free projection from 210 million to 195 million because of Korea and coronavirus, but the data is not yet clear.

Inconvenient Truth: Real 5G Little Better Than Decent 4G

The average 2019 4G download speed across 20,000 PC Mag tests in 30 Canadian cities was over 200 Mbps down. The latency was less than 30 ms. The average in Vancouver was over 300 Mbps.

Canada-2019-PC-Mag-180
Larger below

The majority of independent tests of 5G outside Asia are slower than 200 Mbps. Verizon reports 5G latency of 30 ms. (I’ve actually seen some Verizon latency tests in the 20-27 ms range, including 4G and 5G.) 20 gigabit speed and 1 ms latency are mostly fantasies outside the lab for years.

Putting it bluntly, the difference between 2019 4G and 2019 5G is insignificant, except for the very few sites with millimetre wave. For the next several years, the improvements in 5G performance will be modest, except where Edge servers are installed.

There are 0 major use cases/applications that need 5G rather than decent 4G that are likely to reach volume for years, with the possible exception of AR/VR to mobile phones or surprisingly rapid development of 5G controlled factories.

All the studies that claim a large economic payoff from 5G based on supposed new uses. If new u implies any claim of major economic advantage is b_______.

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5G 2020 Predictions: Surprising and surprise free 210 million, Low 175M, High 230M

“I will tell you, there’s a lot of units coming.” Liam Griffin, CEO Skyworks

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.

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Millimeter Wave: What’s Goin’ On

Verizon has the only substantial mmWave network on the planet. They may have already covered 5% of the US, but most is not yet turned on. The company refuses to release any figures other than 30 million passed one day, about a quarter of the US. The majority of Verizon’s “5G” will be low or midband, which will cover about 40% of the US next summer.*

At Verizon, business areas and some neighborhoods will get mmWave, the good stuff designed for a gig or so. The rest will get low and mid-band, details pending CBRS and C-Band auctions. It will mostly be 70%-90% slower. Guess which neighborhoods will get the slow stuff.

KT was one of the early pioneers in mmWave, supported by Samsung research. Jerry Pi at Samsung was one of the first in 5G mmWave research and Samsung the first to put a large team of engineers to work building actual equipment. KT nows talks vaguely of sometime in the future, probably highly limited for the next several years.

NTT DOCOMO has similar plans. CTO Seizo Onoe has been involved in mmWave since the beginning. For now, DOCOMO is only talking about limited trials for several years. It may try for a splash at Olympic venues. Telefonica Deutsche had plans but seem to have set them aside.

Few are building mmWave. Most telcos believe they have more capacity than they can sell until the middle of the decade or later

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Fiber: What’s Goin’ On

Telcos are adding fiber at a rapid pace. It makes money. AT&T’s CFO John Stephens explains that the fiber delivers three sources of revenue.

Fiber works. I can use it three times. I can use it for my consumers. I can use it for my business customers. And I can use it for my wireless backhaul.

CEO Hans Vestberg of Verizon used almost exactly the same comments to explain the 1.400 miles of fiber it is building every month.

Orange/FT, Telefonica Spain, Bell Canada, and Telus cover more than half their territory with fiber and continue to add more. Orange has 8 million more homes set to pass.

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Facts, not Hype

Typical real-world latency is 30 ms, no better than good 4G. Verizon
Edge networks cut latency to 10-20 ms in 4G or 5G

Fiber latency is usually lower. Telus

Low-band “5G” today is no faster than 4G 6 independent tests

Mid-band 5G’s speed is 100-300 Mbps, similar to good 4G in the same spectrum. 6 independent tests

mmWave capacity is typically 3X mid-band but is <5% of 5G

5G NB-IoT is almost the same as 4G, unless 50,000+ local connections.

Wi-Fi is 90+% of IoT, not cellular.

3/4ths of 5G users are in China and Korea.

80% of Korea is covered. Swisscom and Etisalat Abu Dhabi are similar. I know no other countries more than 20% covered. I don’t count low-band at 4G speeds.


Virtual reality makes most people nauseous at 20 ms and some at 10 ms

Connected cars work fine at 4G speeds and latency. Only remote driving needs lower.

Autonomous cars do not require 5G. Ford

Almost all remote surgery will be over fiber, not 5G unless surgeons operate from the beach.


5G does not cost more than 4G. Telco capex is flat to down Verizon, Orange/FT, NTT DOCOMO, AT&T

More than 65% can be covered by 5G from existing cells. (Smart build) Only mmWave needs many small cells.

Factories and industrial Internet almost always work about the same in 4G as in 5G


There is no evidence that faster wireless speeds have a major effect on employment or the economy.
Why would watching more TV improve the economy?

Spectrum usually has minimal effect on deployment although it (modestly) lowers telco costs
Major exception: Big chunks at 2.5 or 3.5 GHz ideal for Massive MIMO 4G or 5G

Competition inspired AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile US to roll out faster.
Inspiring or ordering one carrier to build 5G will normally force others to respond

All these are based on multiple sources. Ask.

5G Phones: 2019 China $470-700 2020 West: $400-? 2020 China $300

Update Jan 10: Xiaomi is now shipping the US$285 Redmi K30 5G, months before that price was expected. Previously: Nine companies are competing in a 5G market that has room for 4 or 5. In 2020, the difference in 5G and 4G manufacturing costs will fall to US$15-35 per phone. 150 million 5G subscribers in China will drive economies of scale in 2020. See the chart of 5G phone prices at

Result: 5G phone prices are plummetting. That will continue and is central to any analysis of the 5G future.

Some implications:

There is a tipping point where the price difference is so modest, 5G is the right choice for anyone able to spend a few hundred dollars for a phone. 5G will cover half of China in 2020, much of Europe and the US 2021-2022.

If I were spending US$400 or more for a phone, I would buy a 5G model not likely to become obsolete soon, if prices had come down in my country. In China in 2020, most willing to pay $300 will go 5G. China Mobile is confident 150M of the ~400M phones sold in China in 2020 will be 5G.

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5G Phones Will Keep Getting Cheaper

In 2020, the difference in 5G and 4G manufacturing costs will fall to US$15-35 per phone. Xiaomi in January is offering a decent 5G phone for $285. The 4G version is only $55 less.

Huawei and Samsung, who make their own parts and have enormous volume, will have an advantage. Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo believe their prices must be especially aggressive or they will lose market share.

As the price goes down, more people will choose 5G over 4G phones. In the fall of 2019, a third of Korean sales have been 5G phones, as the carriers are using subsidies to bring down the price. LG Uplus has been particularly aggressive, seizing what it considers a “once-in-a-decade” opportunity to gain share with 5G.

Although the first 5G phones cost about US$1,000, by October prices were down to $536 (Oppo) and $570 (Vivo). In January, Xiaomi will sell 5G for $285.Prices will continue to fall after that, although the $50-150 phones are still a while off.

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Early data on coverage

Few companies outside of China and Korea have released data. Here’s what I have for now. This will fill in.

CountryCompanyCoverage (M)Coverage %Radio countSubscribers (M)
KoreaAll3570%?80,0003.8
ChinaChina Mobile4040,0004
ChinaChina Telecom60, shared30,0003
ChinaChina Unicom60, shared30,0003
USVerizon
USSprint165%
UKBT/EE
SwitzerlandSwisscom90% yearend 2019

10M China 5G Users: Everything is Changed – see update

One week after the official launch, CM, CT, and CU have 10,000,000 5G users. 150,000,000 is a plausible estimate for 2020. 5G is here.

** Important update: Actually, the initial 10M were reservations, not users. The government figure is only 3M phones shipped in October. It appears the supply of phones will catch up quickly, but that’s unproven. **

People want to buy, undoubtedly true in the rest of the world as well. Huawei’s Weibo Mall is selling thousands of phones every minute. We need another month of data for certainty, but it looks likely China will reach 100M by summer 2020.

The phone price, mostly US$515 to $700, is $30-100 more than similar 4G phones. The difference in manufacturing cost is $30-45.

4G phones in China will be obsolete in a year or two. Most phones at $400 & above will be 5G. More expensive phones like Huawei’s top models are also selling rapidly. At these prices, you’d be foolish not to buy 5G phones if you purchasing a mid or high-end phone.

What did the Chinese telcos do?

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China 5G: 5M Early Oct 50M soon

In two days at the beginning of October, five million Chinese registered for 5G. Most or all will soon be activated. I have confirming data points. By the end of 2019, I’m confident at least 12M will sign up and more likely 20M or so.

50M will be reached in the first half of 2019, as phone prices drop to under US$300. Most Chinese estimates for 2020 are 150-200M, far more than the rest of the world combined.

The highest estimate I know in the West for worldwide 5G in 2020 is 160M; most are lower. I’m about to stick my neck out and go with the Chinese estimates. The only caveat is production limits at TSMC, which manufactures most of the chips for 5G phones.

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Population by regions for 5G analysis

After 5 months, there is enough data for a (very rough) starting point for estimating 5G subscribers. In Korea, market leaders SK and KT both are confident 10% of Koreans will have 5G by the end of 2019 and 30% by the end of 2020.

I can not predict subscribers with any accuracy, although I believe I’ve done more research than most who issue predictions.

I’ve created this table (below) of the population of 13 regions and how many people represent 5%, 10%, 20%, 30%, and 50%. I’ve then put a year when the subscribers in each region might reach each percentage, based on the very limited data available.

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