Survey says: 12% of operators moving to commercial 5G deployment by year’s end

5G sign
The most challenging network development item on the 5G agenda is radio, according to the IHS study. (FierceWireless)

It seems as though almost everyone is obsessed with being first with 5G in some form or another. So what’s driving it from a technical perspective?

According to a poll by IHS Markit, 82% of operators rated ultralow latency as the chief technical driver for 5G, followed by decreased cost per bit (76%) and increased network capacity (71%).

“Every technical aspect that’s related to substantial improvement in network performance—lower latency, higher capacity, higher bandwidth, higher throughput—while decreasing the cost per bit continues to receive high ratings in our survey,” said Stéphane Téral, executive research director of mobile infrastructure and carrier economics for IHS Markit, in a statement. “This is logical because it’s the foundation of the 5G definition.”

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It might not be too surprising that 82% of mobile operators participating in the IHS study are busy trialing and testing the technology, mainly in North America and Asia, with 12%—all from North America—planning commercial 5G rollouts by year’s end. 5G will go live in North America by the end of 2018 and then in South Korea in 2019.

Once again, Europe is behind the rest of the world. Most operators in Europe aren’t planning to deploy 5G until 2021 or later, which isn’t surprising, either, except that in the early generations of wireless, Europeans succeeded in getting GSM deployed on a wide-scale basis.

As for the most challenging network development item on the 5G agenda, that would be the radio, according to the IHS study. Fifty-three percent of operator respondents said radio is the area of the network that will require the biggest development effort to make 5G happen, followed by transport (24%) and management (14%).

Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) was the highest-rated 5G use case driver among survey respondents, followed by real-time gaming. As real-time gaming requires a superfast network with low latency, it cannot occur in the absence of eMBB; the same applies to high-definition and ultra-high-definition video services and tactile low-latency touch and steer, IHS points out. Fixed-wireless access (FWA) is expected to be ready for commercial deployment first.

Of course, the real whiz-bang aspects of 5G are a ways off. “The bottom line is early 5G will be an extension of what we know best: broadband, whether in FWA or eMBB form,” Téral said. “Don’t expect factory automation, tactile low-latency touch and steer, or autonomous driving to be ready on 5G anytime soon despite being touted as the chief 5G use cases.”