DoCoMo, SK Telecom leading the way in 5G readiness: report

5G sign
Juniper analyzed more than 50 global operators and found Japanese and South Korean operators to be leading. (FierceWireless)

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg has famously promised that Verizon will be “first in the world” with 5G, but an analysis by Juniper Research shows Verizon isn’t even in the top five operators worldwide in its readiness for 5G.

Rather, NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, LG U+, KT Telecom and Softbank, in that order, ranked as the top five leading operators, according to Juniper’s 5G Operator Positioning Index. Juniper analyzed more than 50 global operators based on criteria that included the results of 5G testing and trials, the extent and range of partnerships in the 5G ecosystem and the level of technology innovation.

AT&T and China Mobile closely followed the top five players in the Positioning Index, but Verizon was just outside the top 10, behind fellow U.S. operators AT&T and Sprint, which both made the top 10 but not the top five, according to a Juniper spokesperson.

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The Juniper analyst who conducted the study, Sam Barker, found that Japanese and South Korean operators were in a much more advanced state of readiness than their U.S. counterparts. Barker predicts that 45% of all 5G connections worldwide in 2019 will be found in just these two countries.

The Juniper research also forecast that 5G broadband will be among the first services to launch over 5G. Its suitability as a last-mile solution will drive adoption to more than 220 million connections by 2025. However, the challenge for operators will be to demonstrate tangible benefits, to enterprises and consumers, over existing fiber-based solutions.

“Operators must carefully consider pricing strategies for 5G broadband,” Barker said in a press release. “Pricing must address both the anticipated large traffic generated, whilst remaining price competitive against incumbent broadband suppliers.”

The researcher cautioned, however, that operators face significant challenges both to deploy and most effectively configure 5G networks. With so many small cells, operators need far greater access to sites to upgrade and share equipment. The researcher also urges operators to invest in virtualized networks to enable more efficient traffic management and improve security in the network perimeter.

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U.S. operators will go live with 5G this year, and South Korea is expected to go live in March 2019. A survey by IHS Markit indicates that most operators in Europe aren’t even planning to deploy 5G until 2021 or later. That firm found that the most challenging network development item on the 5G agenda is the radio, with 53% of operator respondents saying radio is the area of the network that will require the biggest development effort to make 5G happen.

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