Our analysis

5G: The Facts and the Future is probably the best current review publicly available. It’s free. 60 pages, loaded with data and projections. No hype. Worldwide coverage, updated weekly. tl;dr unless you’re really interested in wireless.

80M 5G subscribers in Q2, 100M August prove 5G is real. (August 18)
China is > 70% of 5G as subs pass 80M
US Q2 5G 5-6 million. Year-end 12-17 million
Moffett’s Remarkable Insight: Low marginal cost means nothing if you can’t sell it
Primary: Cost per bit of wireless is falling at a ferocious rate
5X Advance for Africa with Massive MIMO, Spectrum

5G: The Facts and the Future

A global analysis from 2020 to 2025, with estimates that cut through the hype.

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

5G is not going to change the world, no matter what you hear from Xi Jinping, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, or Angela Merkel. None of them have any idea what they are talking about. The hype level is far beyond anything else I’ve seen in 22 years of reporting.

~63 million people had 5G phones at the end of June 2020. By August, 100 million. Demand is exploding in Asia, mostly China, where decent 5G phones sell for US$199-260. Yearend 5G will be between 200 million and 240 million.

Update September 1. Realme has just released a phone so cheap I probably should raise my estimates. See Realme 5G down to $145 Bloomberg has the rumor that all the new iPhones in 2020 will be 5G. end update

Advanced wireless delivers useful improvements for us in the industry. Hans Vestberg at Verizon estimates his costs are down 90%. But performance generally is disappointing. Latency is typically 25-40 millisecond, not close to the promised 1 ms. With few exceptions, speeds are from 50 Mbps (some low-band) to 400 Mbps. Most of Europe is 100-200 Mbps; Korea claims much higher speeds.

There are no exciting new apps that don’t work fine in 4G. After 18 months, none. I hope some thrilling new apps will appear over time. Some “use cases” are false narratives. Better and cheaper wireless is good for all of us, but not life-changing.

Open-RAN is exciting and working in 4G. Rakuten has 5,000 radios in service. CTO Tareq Amin has had to spend hundreds of millions on custom chips because Open-RAN is not quite ready. It remains the logical choice for new networks and new areas, but Vodafone CTO Scott Petty doesn’t expect primary deployments of Open-RAN until 2023-2025.

This will soon be part of my book, 5G. I have drafts of sections on applications (few,) strategies (take advantage of 5G capacity and low costs,) companies (watch Jio, Rakuten, and the new software vendors, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, Radisys/Jio, & Altiostar,) and informed regulation, Ask me for 0.7 versions if these are important topics for you.

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Future updates @analysisbranch

Saudi Arabia average 5G download 414 Mbps, 34% coverage leads the world. US, Europe mostly dismal. Open Signal (I didn’t believe it at first either. STC has upgraded 3,000 of 7,000 towers. See Zain Saudi Arabia: 5G 248 Mbps, ping 17 ms

5G phone prices in China are down to US$199 (Coolpad.) Half a dozen phones are available from $214-$260. That includes the Xiaomi K30, two from Huawei/Honor, Oppo, and Realme. The Coolpad, distributed by China Telecom, uses the new Tiger T7510 chip, designed in China by Ziguang Zhanrui. Qualcomm has announced the 690 chip, also designed for 5G phones under $200. I believe the low price of phones will drive demand over 200 million units in 2020, the highest estimate in the West. See 5G Phones $199-260,

Verizon is making a big push for 4G fixed wireless. Turkcell added 91,000 4G fixed customers in Q2. Inseego has a slew of orders for FWA routers. The 5G version has an improved antenna that Verizon is very hopeful about.

Pompeo announces the Great Firewall of Washington + 30 other countries is a huge policy story that will affect many things but not 5G standards from 3GPP. China is too strong. Ericsson and others have no choice but to follow because China is 70% of 5G. Result: on the technical level, 5G will have one world standard with China central.

17.5 million 5G phones shipped in China in June, about as many as the six month total in the entire rest of the world. However, July was down to 14 million. The 6 month total is 63.6 million. 10-14 million were sold in 2019, so the total 5G phones in China are ~75 million. That’s at least three times the total in the rest of the world. However, it is much less than the carrier figure of > 100 million “contracts,” which includes many still using 4G phones.

60% of phones sold in China in June were 5G. As prices come down elsewhere, I expect similar trends elsewhere. Almost all western telcos have such low counts they refuse to release figures.

MTN in South Africa has upgraded hundreds of base stations to 5G mid-band.

Performance is generally dismal compared to promises

Verizon claimed latency is 30 ms, although it sometimes measures lower. That’s 30% lower than 4G averages, although 4G latency is also falling. T-Mobile’s tested average 5G speed is 49 Mbps and AT&T’s 61 Mbps. The Open Signal chart at left for June summarizes over 10,000 tests. Compare it to the 4G results from Canada, 69 Mbps at Bell and 75 Mbps at Telus.

Mid-band spectrum allows 5G (and 4G) to reach 100’s of megabits, as confirmed by the British 5G companies and the Korean data from Open Signal below. Neville Ray says his lightly loaded new network at 2.5 GHz averages speeds over 300 Mbps. Korean government tests claim speeds average over 600 Mbps, much higher than reported by similar networks elsewhere. I need more data.

Do 5G speeds change what we do on the Internet?

Ask yourself, what can you do at 250 Mbps that you can’t do at 75 Mbps? 4K video typically is 15 Mbps; few of us watch more than three 4K videos at once. Huge downloads are faster, but how often do you download huge files? All claims of economic benefits depend on superior applications, which aren’t on the horizon. Nearly all the “studies” that find economic returns describe applications like IoT and connected cars that work well in 4G. The claims are unsupportable

I’ve interviewed over 100 senior people in the industry, including CTOs of world-class carriers and many of the inventors. Almost all are horrified by how the marketing people, the politicians, and some dreamers abuse the facts.

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210M 2020 5G Estimate Restored as Sale Prices Fall to US$200

China will almost definitely reach its 150 million 2020 target and some estimates are 180 million. 20 million 5G subs are likely in the U.S. 3.4 million 5G phones shipped in the U.S. in Q1 even though the U.S. 5G build in very small. T-Mobile is going to promote 5G strongly around August and Verizon expects to strongly promote iPhone 5G. Korea will pass 10 million and Japan is starting to sell. ~US$400 will soon be common in Europe, driving buyers.

My “surprise-free” estimate is now back at December’s figure of 210 million, after dipping due to the pandemic. The end of May Chinese figure was closer to 50 million than the claimed 75+ million, but 15 million 5G phones sold in China in May. Unicom has dropped the monthly fee 30% to US$13.

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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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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.