5G mobile networks have been deployed at a radically different speed in this year that is now ending, depending on whether it is Asia on the one hand or the West on the other, and without the foreseeable convergence in the short term of coverage rates, speed and especially of use at a global level. Asia-Pacific, and especially China, South Korea and Taiwan, have taken such a lead in the deployment and promotion of 5G networks relative to Europe and the United States that the situation is not likely to equalize, even proportionally to the population, until 2024 at the earliest.
The forecasts of the main consultancies ensure that the growth rate of deployments and use of 5G networks will be much faster in Europe and the United States than in Asia in the coming years, which should allow a turnaround, between 2024 and 2027, to the regional evolution of 5G in 2020 and 2021. Probably, the penetration and use of 5G networks in Western countries will be similar to that of Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asian countries in the second half of this decade, in proportion to the population, but it remains to be seen if Western companies will be able to make up for lost time compared to Asian companies in terms of the business digital transformation that 5G should bring about.
The evolution of 5G networks and their use in 2021 that has occurred in Europe and North America does not invite optimism when compared with the reality not only of South Korea or China, clearly ahead in terms of coverage and use of the new networks, but also from initially lagging countries, such as Taiwan and Japan, which have lately caught the cruising speed necessary to be among the world’s leading regions in terms of 5G.
The evolution of 5G networks and their use in Europe and North America this 2021 does not invite optimism when compared with the reality in South Korea and the initial lagging countries such as Taiwan and Japan, clearly ahead
It is true that the German operator Deutsche Telekom assured a few days ago that about 87% of households in Germany have access to its 5G network. The problem is that behind the term 5G there are multiple realities in terms of the use of different frequency bands, as well as the coverage, range, transmission speed and latency of the signals of the new 5G networks and their associated industrial projects. .
In many cases, it does not appear that 5G networks offer great advantages, neither for companies nor for consumers, compared to the current 4G mobile networks, which are absolutely ubiquitous throughout Europe, or the fiber optic-based broadband networks, which especially in Spain they are very generalized. In this year 2021, several use cases of 5G networks have been made in Europe, especially in Spain, but it does not seem that they will boost business demand 5G in the short term or that they are a break from what can already be done with 4G , at least until SA 5G networks become general, towards the end of 2022 or already in 2023.
The virulence with which the Omicron variant is spreading in recent weeks, together with the persistence of logistical problems worldwide and the urgent need to reduce social interactions and travel on these important dates, raises concerns that the forecasts Relatively optimistic last October about 2022 have been parked. We are now, three days before Christmas, at the bottom of the expectations curve, when it seemed, less than a month ago, that the worst of the pandemic was under control. Hopefully the situation is reversed again and the situation is more reassuring at the end of the first quarter of 2022.
Mostly 5G DSS networks in Germany
Regardless of the pandemic, if this is possible, the sad reality is that the development of 5G networks in the West has gone well below expectations, both in deployments and in substantial advances in the new generation of mobile telephony. Even in Germany, the 5G situation is not buoyant, despite the wide coverage of 53% of the territory at the end of October by at least one operator, according to the statement from the German regulatory body, the Bundesnetzagentur,
Half of the map of Germany published by the regulatory body is effectively covered with 5G networks, but mostly in orange, which refer to the 5G DSS variant, which means that they are 5G networks with the shared dynamic spectrum of 4G networks. . Really 5G networks, colored red, are only found in the vicinity of large German industrial cities, such as Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Nuremberg and the triangle formed by Cologne, Dusseldorf and Dortmund, mainly. The other half of the map of Germany is largely purple, which corresponds to 4G, but there are also several areas, in blue, with 2G and 3G networks.
As the Bundesnetzagentur points out, the 3.6 GHz spectrum, auctioned in 2019 for the exclusive use of 5G, is being used in urban areas by all operators, but particularly high speed rates are only achieved in regions with very high population density. To achieve high 5G coverage, operators Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone’s German subsidiary are using the DSS spectrum-sharing system in parallel, which allows the existing 4G network to be used for 5G as well, dynamically according to demand, the agency says. . He adds that 96% of the German territory is covered by at least one mobile network, 4G being predominant, and the shutdown of 3G is almost complete, when the German subsidiary of Telefónica is expected to end it at the end of this 2021. The shutdown 3G has not had a negative effect on the country’s mobile coverage, he says.
In the UK, 5G coverage is lower than in Germany and the recent 2021 report from British regulator Ofcom does not make much clarification on the current 5G coverage in the country. The report ensures that 5G deployment continues apace, with twice the number of mobile base stations providing 5G services compared to last year, some 6,500 across the UK; 87% of which are in England. “We estimate that 5G is available by at least one mobile operator in around 42 to 57% of the stations (premises),” the report indicates, without giving data on global 5G coverage in the country. It is added that 4G coverage in the United Kingdom is stable and in about 99% of the stations. At the territorial level, mobile networks cover 79% to 86% of the UK.
The controversy between “true” and “false” 5G in France continues
In France, the coverage of 5G networks has improved a lot in the last twelve months, although the situation is different depending on the mobile operator. Orange, owned by the State since the operator is heir to the previous France Télécom monopoly, has the most base stations at 3.5 GHz, 2,177, followed by Bouygues Telecom with 1,934, SFR with 1,735 and Free Mobile with 1,691. This last operator, however, is the one who has more 5G stations, 12,000, but they operate in the lower band of the spectrum, from 700 to 800 MHz; the only one that does it in France. Bouygues has another 4,701 5G stations operating at 1.8 and 2.1 GHz, while SFR has 1,425 and Orange with 475 at this same frequency range, according to the Observatoire du déploiement 5G, of the French regulator ARCEP and synthesized in the lower table, with data supplied by operators on September 30.
In France there is a great debate between what they call some true, real or pure 5G (with sites at 3.5 GHz or at least 1.8 and 2.1 GHz) and the fake 5G (at 700 and 800 MHz) . In the lower maps of 5G coverage in France, it is seen that Free Mobile has the highest coverage, but rival operators insist that it is fake 5G, because the vast majority of sites operate at 700 or 800 MHz. Bouygues would be With the September data, who would have the most “true” 5G coverage, if the 1.8 and 2.1 GHz sites are added, while Orange would have the most 3.5 GHz sites. The situation, with Everything is very changeable: it must be borne in mind that Bouygues installed more than 2,000 5G sites at 1.8 and 2.1 GHz in the third quarter, almost doubling those it had in the middle of the year.
The ARCEP, in its report of November 19 on the quality of mobile services, gives the first measures on the 5G service in France, which does not invite optimism. As seen in the graph below, taken from the report, Orange achieves higher speed with 5G than with 4G (227 vs. 148) but in densely populated areas, where the range and quality of the 5G signal is better. In intermediate or rural areas that have 5G, the difference is minimal. And in the case of Free, the speed of 5G networks is, in all cases, lower than 4G. The agency has carried out more than a million measurements from May to September 2021 and it is certain that the 5G situation will improve a lot in the coming months, but there is great concern among the operators of the neighboring country because it does not seem that neither the companies nor the French consumers show interest in 5G.
In Spain, the National Commission of Markets and Competition (CNMC), which since 2013 is the telecommunications regulator, formerly the CMT, has not published any recent report on the mobile telecommunications sector in Spain or the operators. In the monthly data for last October, it simply says that there are 55.65 million mobile lines in Spain, with a variation of 1.2% compared to the same month last year. The vast majority, 48.5 million, are mobile voice lines with broadband, 87%. Although Spain was one of the first countries to auction the 3.5 GHz 5G band, the auctioned frequencies have not yet been redistributed, to be combined by operator; This means that Telefónica or Orange cannot act decisively in 5G since they now have dispersed frequency bands. And the 700 MHz band, finally auctioned in September, is not yet operational. And if it happens as in France, it will bring little benefit.
Controversy also in the United States
This controversy about the real characteristics of the different 5G networks in a given territory, in which each operator reports only what is most beneficial, is not exclusive to Europe. In the United States, Deutsche Telekom’s German subsidiary, T-Mobile (new), boasts that its 5G networks charge most of the United States, but omits that almost all operate at 700 or 800 MHz and their speed is marginally higher. , in the best of cases, to 4G.
The other two national operators, AT&T and Verizon, aspired to reverse the situation with the launch of their 3.8 GHz 5G networks, for which a total of 100 billion dollars were paid in February, and now they find that They have had to be postponed because the US aviation authority, the FAA, sees risks of interference in airplanes, due to the fact that the systems of many control towers have not been updated.
For now, the FAA has issued an order, which will take effect from January 5, to restrict the automatic maneuvers carried out by pilots when landing and other commonly used operations, especially in cases of low visibility. From the outset, Verizon and AT&T have agreed to reduce the signal strength of their 5G stations for the next six months, from the activation of the signal by AT&T on January 5, with a delay of one month, and shortly thereafter. Verizon will.
2022 will once again be a transitional period for Europe in 5G: operators will gradually launch fully autonomous 5G networks and advanced business services that should increase rates and make new networks profitable
The FAA assures that progress is being made to ensure that the expansion of 5G networks is safe and in its order it specifies that “no information has been presented that shows that altimeters are not susceptible to interference” with the new 5G service, as has published the Wall Street Journal. In any case, it is a stone in the advancement of 5G. Many countries have taken the FAA notice seriously and plan to make restrictions, especially on air routes to the United States.
Asia is launched with 5G
While problems with the deployment of 5G do not stop arising in Europe, the pace of progress in Northeast Asia in 5G has been impressive in 2020 and 2021 and will likely continue to be for at least two more years. As the Ericsson report showed, Northeast Asia had 247 million 5G subscriptions at the end of 2020 and 517 million at the end of this year 2021, of which 228 and 460 million, respectively, corresponded only to China. Across Western Europe, Ericsson estimates, there were 7 million 5G subscriptions at the end of 2020 and 31 million by the end of this year, sixteen times less (the population of Western Europe is also much lower than that of Northeast Asia, but there were more mobile subscriptions in Europe than in Asia in previous generations). In North America, 5G penetration is much higher than in Western Europe, including low-frequency networks.
In reality, the advancement of 5G networks in the last two years in Western Europe has been quite rapid, probably above that of 3G and 4G, but the development in Asia of 5G has been exponential. The governments of Asia, especially China and South Korea, have firmly opted for 5G and the three major operators in each of the two countries have turned to the goal (Chinese mobile operators are controlled by the state). Meanwhile, in Europe, as is often said, a hundred mobile operators, plus virtual ones, have to cope with very small national markets compared to the three in China or the United States and subject to stricter regulations.
It can be argued that 5G networks were launched prematurely, when most of the specifications were not approved or developed the business services that were supposed to make sense of 5G, nor are most of them yet. The pandemic, it must be recognized, has greatly delayed the start-up of services that are much more complex than expected. And, as if that were not enough, 4G services and fiber optic broadband have been revealed to be of such quality and at a good price due to the price war between operators that few miss 5G. It is not surprising, thus, the lack of enthusiasm in Europe towards the new networks on the part of consumers and companies.
This year, which is now about to begin, will once again be a transition year with regard to 5G in Europe. Over the next few months, operators will gradually launch fully autonomous 5G networks, with the SA 5G, and advanced business services that should allow increasing rates and, therefore, the profitability of the new networks. But it would be interesting if the scope and benefits of the new services were further clarified, because the impression is that, at least in Europe, the term 5G, by itself, does not arouse any enthusiasm. Its advantages must be explained more and better.