A study from Juniper Research ranked NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, LG U+, KT Telecom, and SoftBank as the “most promising” 5G network operators. Just below the top five were AT&T and China Mobile.
Juniper said it evaluated operators based on efforts in developing 5G, results of 5G testing and trials, the range and extent of their 5G partnerships, and the level of innovative technologies used. Overall, the firm assessed over 50 operators for the study.
Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo topped the list as No. 1, overtaking the spot from SK Telecom, which held the top ranking in the same study last year. According to the study’s author, Juniper Research Analyst Sam Barker, NTT DoCoMo’s 5G trials over the past 12 months won it the spot. These include trials in partnership with Huawei in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz spectrums, trials aimed at evaluating prospects for future services including 5G broadband, and integration testing based on 3GPP new radio (NR) standards. “We expect the operator to use Tokyo 2020 as a significant platform to highlight the capabilities of its 5G capabilities,” he said, referring to the 2020 Summer Olympics that will be hosted in Tokyo.
NTT DoCoMo plans to fully launch its commercial 5G by 2020. It recently extended its 5G collaboration with testing vendor Keysight Technologies to work on characterizing and validating 5G NR mobile devices.
SK Telecom plans to launch its commercial 5G in the second half of 2019. According to Juniper, the South Korean operator is looking at the ultra-high frequency spectrum, “which will enable a significant increase over LTE network speeds,” said Barker. It has also participated in extensive 5G trials that tested technologies such as millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum; massive input, massive output (MIMO) transmission; and network slicing.
While Juniper ranks AT&T just outside the top five, North American operators are notably missing from the list of leading operators. Barker said this is due to the significant progression of 5G development by operators in the Far East, particularly Japan and South Korea: “This spectrum auction has already been completed, whereas the US is still arranging their high frequency spectrum auction.“
In a white paper, Operators Need to Secure 5G ROI ~ Here’s How, accompanying the study, Juniper Research predicted that 43 percent of 5G connections in 2019 will be in Japan and South Korea. It also said that the first commercial launches are expected in 2019 and that the first networks with 5G services will be in the Far East, China, and North America. In addition, it predicts that these three regions will account for all of the predicted 1.05 million 5G active connections by the end of 2019.
Among the other findings of the study, Juniper said that the first services to be launched over 5G will be 5G broadband, and that will drive total connections to grow to 1.5 billion by 2025. The firm also suggested operators continue to invest in virtualized networks to prepare for 5G and ensure the longevity and prosperity of their 5G services and network.
“Operators have been increasing the virtualization of their networks for some time,” Barker said. “As more of the network is virtualized, there is less hardware that needs to be maintained. With the high data traffic that 5G devices are anticipated to generate, virtualized networks that enable rapid scaling and increased efficiency will be essential.”
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