What metric determines who ‘wins’ the race to 5G?

Chetan Sharma Consulting named the current leaders in the 5G race. (Getty Images)

There’s been a lot of talk about the race to 5G and who’s winning the 5G race. But analyst Chetan Sharma, CEO of Chetan Sharma Consulting, points out that there aren’t any clearly defined metrics to determine the “winners.”

Some potential metrics might include the number of cell sites in a country. In that case, China is the preordained winner just given the country's pure size. Another metric could be the percentage of subscribers who are using 5G. In that case, smaller countries such as South Korea would naturally have an advantage.

If the comparison was purely based on the number of 5G subscribers, we might get an incomplete picture, writes Sharma in a white paper, “5G Maturity Model: If 5G is a Race, How should we Measure it?

Sharma's model takes into account five key elements:

  • Government factors such as spectrum allocation;
  • Operator metrics including 5G coverage and subscribers;
  • Ecosystem strength such as 5G applications;
  • Financial metrics such as 5G revenue; and
  • Operational metrics including 5G data traffic and number of base stations.

The idea is to gather data points on a multitude of variables and then apply weights depending on their importance. “This will yield respective scores of each of the categories, which can be used to further compute the final 5G Maturity Model Index score,” states the report.

The paper looks at 25 different variables across the five different dimensions for 16 major markets to get a sense of where countries are in their 5G journey. 

Based on its initial attempt to create this model, the consulting firm found that the U.S. leads in the race to 5G, followed closely by China, Japan and Korea.

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“The goal of this exercise is to track the variables year over year and understand the movement on the 5G roadmap,” states the report. “In early 2019, US comes out ahead based on the strength of its ecosystem. US operators are already ahead of most of the global operators in deploying 5G networks with all the four operators lighting up cities with low, mid, and high band spectrum dedicated to 5G. However, it is the strong ecosystem that they have built over the last decade [that] helped it in edging out China in current rankings."

But that could change quickly as the Chinese government is actively involved in the race to 5G.