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“China, the US, South Korea, and Japan are leaders in 5G readiness”

Janette Stewart and Chris Nickerson, Principal and Consultant respectively at consulting and research firm Analysys Mason, explain in this interview how a handful of countries are moving ahead in terms of 5G deployment and readiness. Analysys Mason released the ´Global race to 5G’ (free download) report last year. The study was also named top report 2019 in the ‘5G’ category by IT Research Finder.

ITRF: China, the US, South Korea, and Japan received the best scores in your report in terms of 5G readiness? What are they doing differently to excel?

Janette Stewart and Chris Nickerson: Our report scored countries for "5G readiness" on six different metrics: National strategies and government support; Industry commitment to commercial 5G launch; Spectrum, that is the amount and timeline of low-band, mid-band, and total 5G spectrum release

Based on scores in these categories, a top tier of four countries emerged as leaders in 5G readiness: China, the US, South Korea, and Japan.

These countries all have national 5G strategies or roadmaps, significant programs of government funding aimed at accelerating the deployment of 5G, and/or specific initiatives designed to reduce barriers for infrastructure deployment. For example, the government in South Korea has committed to investing USD1.5 billion by 2020 to enable local firms to build 5G networks and revised legislation to allow operators greater access to local government-owned locations to enable the installation of 5G equipment.

In terms of industry commitment, operators in the leading four countries were generally expected to launch commercial 5G services according to accelerated timetables. At the time of publishing the report, in April 2019, US MNOs Verizon and AT&T had already launched initial 5G services using the mm-wave spectrum, while all three MNOs in South Korea had launched commercial 5G FWA services using mid-spectrum. Since then, commercial mobile services have been launched by all three MNOs in South Korea, in April 2019, all three MNOs in China, in October 2019, as well as operators in the US. MNOs in Japan are scheduled to launch 5G services in March and April 2020.

The overall 5G readiness score was weighted towards the amount of spectrum being made available for 5G, and how quickly it will be assigned for use. The leading four countries have generally made large amounts of spectrum available already, or have accelerated plans to do so across the low-band, mid-band, and high-band.

ITRF: The report explains that the mid-band spectrum will be important for early 5G deployments. Is this probably the weakest point for the US market? How do you foresee their evolution on this?

Janette Stewart and Chris Nickerson: Mid-band spectrum, particularly in the 3.3-3.8GHz band, has been a key focus for initial 5G deployments around the world. The metric that the US scored lowest on was in terms of the mid-band spectrum availability, with no licensed mid-band spectrum available for 5G at the time of producing the report, and limited plans for making mid-band spectrum available in the future; at the time of producing the report, the planned availability was via the shared CBRS band in the 3.55-3.7GHz range, 70MHz of which is scheduled to be auctioned later in 2020.

Since publishing the report, the US has confirmed that an auction of a further 280MHz for mobile, in the 3.7-3.98GHz range, will begin in December 2020; the lower 100MHz is likely to be available for use by September 2021 and the remaining 180MHz by September 2023. While the US is, therefore, planning to make available 350MHz of licensed mid-band spectrum over the next few years, it will still lag behind several other leading markets, including China, Japan, and South Korea, as well as several other markets, which have moved and/or are continuing to move aggressively in terms of making further mid-band spectrum assignment.

However, the FCC has recently announced that it is exploring use cases for the 3.1–3.55GHz band in terms of 5G services. While no timetable has been confirmed for commercial release, a significant assignment of spectrum for 5G in this band could help improve the US ranking on the mid-band metric compared to other leading markets.

ITRF: Could you describe some of the actions by governments in leading countries to facilitate 5G development? Can you provide some examples of these efforts?

Janette Stewart and Chris Nickerson: Governments of many leading 5G markets have published a specific 5G strategy, and/or a program of policies to facilitate 5G development and deployment. Examples include Japan's 'Policy to realize 5G in 2020', and the US: '5G FAST Plan' and National Spectrum Strategy. In other cases, while a specific formalized 5G plan has not been published, national governments have encouraged the development and commercial deployment of 5G technology as part of a broader national broadband plan, digital strategy, or similar. For example, in China, the 'Made in China 2025' plan and the 13th Five-Year Plan explicitly aim for the commercial launch of 5G services by 2020.

As well as designing and implementing 5G roadmaps, some governments have made funding available for 5G, either through digital connectivity funding or through funding for specific 5G initiatives. The UK government, for example, has committed to investing over GBP1 billion by 2020–2021 in digital communications, including GBP740 million through the National Productivity Investment Fund targeted at supporting the roll-out of full-fiber and 5G. In particular, the Department for Culture Media and Sport is allocating GBP 200 million from the NPIF to its '5G testbeds and trials' program. Recently, the UK Government via Department for Digital, Communications, Media, and Sport announced that nine projects across the UK will receive a share of GBP35 million from its rural and industrial 5G competitions, and a new GBP30 million open competition will look at how 5G can create new opportunities in industries including film, TV, video games, logistics, and tourism.

Governments are also taking measures to reduce barriers for the deployment of 5G infrastructure. There are several examples of governments such as in Australia, the US, and the UK, taking action to simplify infrastructure regulations, and ease barriers to small-cell deployment, including recommending/regulating fees that can be levied by local authorities relating to a review of applications for siting of small cells. In the EU, a new Electronic Communication Code has been designed which simplifies the conditions for the deployment and provisions of small cells to reduce costs of deploying very dense networks.

ITRF: You have published the 2nd edition of this report – 2018 and 2019. Can you elaborate a bit on the developments you are seeing and what can be expected in the upcoming year?

Janette Stewart and Chris Nickerson: As alluded to above, several significant developments have taken place since the publication of our 2019 report, with regulators continuing to assign more spectrum for 5G and a ramping-up of commercial 5G launches and roll-outs. In the remainder of 2020, we expect to see more mid-band spectrum being assigned, more spectrum made available in mm-wave bands, particularly in Europe where high-frequency assignments have so far been limited, more 5G commercial launches, 5G networks being rolled out over larger areas, and attention is turned towards "stand-alone" architectures.


Janette Stewart (Principal) has nearly 25 years' experience of working in the wireless industry, specializing in wireless technology, mobile technology (from 2G to 5G), cost-benefit assessment and spectrum valuation. She started her career working for the UK regulator (Ofcom), where she was part of the UK 3G auction team. She has worked extensively with mobile operators, governments, and regulators during 18 years of working for Analysys Mason. Her recent focus has been on 5G, including studies for CTIA on 5G readiness in several world markets, a study on the socio-economic benefits of 5G V2X technology, and a study quantifying the socio-economic benefits of improved mobile coverage in a European market. Janette holds a BEng in Electronic Engineering from the University of Edinburgh, UK, and an MSc in radio communications from the University of Bradford, UK.
Chris Nickerson (Consultant) has wide-ranging experience working across the mobile telecommunications sector, with particular expertise in radio spectrum management, spectrum valuation, and coverage obligation costing. He has recently authored several reports on 5G, including several studies for CTIA on 5G readiness in several world markets, and for a leading equipment vendor on use of the 26GHz and 28GHz bands for 5G. Chris also maintains the company's Spectrum auction tracker, a database of concluded and planned mobile spectrum auctions. Chris holds a M. Sci degree in Physics from the University of Cambridge, UK.