The United States is leading the world in the initial roll out of 5G networks, according to a new report from ABI Research. That report had the U.S. ahead of three Asia-Pacific countries: China, South Korea, and Japan.
ABI cited the financial health of the four top carriers in the U.S. and supportive 5G policies from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The report added that the U.S. will maintain that leadership position over at least the next two years.
Emanuel Kolta, an analyst at ABI Research, noted that the current stronghold by the U.S. is bolstered by the expected $40 billion in network infrastructure spending planned for this year by carriers. Verizon and AT&T have both launched commercial “5G” services, while Sprint and T-Mobile US are expected to launch their networks by mid-year.
Short-term roll outs will be dominated by wireless home broadband and enhanced mobile broadband services, which are basically competitive with traditional wired broadband services. The first 5G deployments are limited to dense, urban areas, commuter routes, campuses, and large public venues, ABI said.
Longer term, carriers will focus on low-latency connections to industrial users with machine-to-machine (M2M) IoT connections. “Demand for 5G will be much more fragmented and not just consumer-focused like 4G was,” Kolta said in an interview.
Those industrial and IoT services will target manufacturers, the agriculture industry, and sectors like mining, Kolta said. “You will connect to humans and then connect to objects,” Kolta explained, adding that, “It will require a different market strategy and carriers will need to learn and adapt for this new situation. There will be a lot of use cases. It will be big business.”
The FCC has also bolstered government support for 5G with early access to spectrum, including a large amount of millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. “These auctions are something we don’t see in Asia or Europe,” Kolta added.
While China might be behind now, it’s in a position to quickly catch up. That country’s Made in China 2025 strategy has 5G at its cornerstone, but the country’s allocation of needed spectrum resources got off to a slower start than in the U.S. “The Chinese government is really active with Made in China 2025, but the Chinese operators did not plan for a commercially active 5G until later,” Kolta said.
One big reason that 5G promises to grow quicker in the U.S. is that average revenue per user (ARPU) in the U.S. is higher than in Asia or Western Europe, Kolta said. This will also be helped by the faster roll out of 5G-enabled smartphones.
Among the potential obstacles to 5G roll outs in the U.S. are the more than 20 federal lawsuits that have been filed by cities and counties against an FCC rule that expedites local government review of small cell antenna placements. Some cities object to potential health hazards from the estimated 800,000 small cells that will be needed nationwide to support 5G services using mmWave spectrum or the impact of the antennas on historic buildings and streetscapes.
It is too early to evaluate the impact those lawsuits will have on 5G coverage. However, Kolta said, “There are many ways to integrate these small cells in a city landscape. It’s a whole new opportunity.”
Even though the U.S. is in the lead for now, “to reach nationwide coverage will take years,” he added. “5G will come in phases.”