What to Expect from U.S. 5G Rollouts This Year

Kathryn Weldon – Research Director, Business Network and IT Services – Americas

Summary Bullets:

• U.S. communications service providers are racing to launch 5G services this year

• What we really expect are 2019 deployments, as standards finalize and devices are commercialized

U.S. Providers 5G Rollout Plans

In the U.S., 5G rollouts are planned for 2018 by all four major wireless operators. However the launch dates, use cases and underlying technologies are all a bit different. While the other three operators are planning mobile rollouts from the beginning, Verizon is sticking with fixed broadband for now. And while AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile claim mobile launches in 2018, standardized 5G with devices that can run on it are not expected until 2019.

Meanwhile, the use cases for 5G in the enterprise are still TBD. Aside from faster, lower latency services, and the futuristic advent of driverless cars and surgeon-free operations, 5G allows for more granular pricing and use case types via its “network slicing” capability. This lets network operators choose the characteristics they need per slice such as level of latency, throughput, the number and type of devices to be supported, and these in turn effect the pricing model.

Benefits for Consumers and Business Users

According to 5G technology suppliers, the benefits of 5G to consumers will include higher quality, faster speeds, wider coverage (indoors and out), and lower latency (down by 10x) – this translates to better support for applications that use streaming video or are aimed at the interactive gaming user base. 5G will also support the growing market for applications that use augmented and virtual reality technologies.

In the enterprise, suppliers note that massive communications traffic is expected from sensors embedded in roads, railways, and vehicles that are not only sending information to the cloud or to edge processing devices for analysis, but will also be sending data to each other. 5G also aims to leverage its inherent reliability and low latency to control critical services and infrastructure for public safety, government organizations, and utilities. Real-time video streaming, support for IoT applications such as autonomous vehicles, and advanced use of robotics in manufacturing are other likely use cases in the not-too-distant future.

Pricing Benefits?

While service providers have not yet set prices, a major objective for 5G is to lower data transmission costs compared to 4G LTE, by making bandwidth utilization more efficient and leveraging new higher-band spectrum. However, operators tend to charge what they can get companies and consumers to pay. They are not certain to pass these economies of scale and technology down to the end-customer, especially for such a premium service.

But there remain skeptics about the use cases for 5G: will they be different enough from 4G to allow operators to recoup their investments? Are 2018 launches meaningful when devices won’t be ready until 2019? And as far as the race to launch services is concerned – does it really matter which operator gets there first? Should enterprises wait to deploy fixed or mobile broadband or IoT services until they have 5G available? Probably not.

What do you think?

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