Ian Moyse, Industry Cloud Influencer
There is no doubt that 5G has become a technology evolution that surpasses the 1st impression it made. When 5G was 1st announced the immediate perceived improvement was that of speed of transmission and reports were wide that the consumer would not pay the higher price for the pure speed improvement. However, what was missed was the wider application and implications that 5G delivers to the business community and the economic advantages that can be extracted from this new extension to a medium we increasingly take for granted; the ability to access anything, anywhere at any time.
We were already witnessing a time where dependency on connectivity was becoming an essential service. Consumers and businesses have been rapidly penetrated by cloud systems, mobile apps and IOT (Internet of Things) being adopted without consideration for the underlying needs and complications of network availability. Be they from a simple satellite navigation application, through to a complex manufacturing analysis tool or a home security camera, now reliant on network connectivity for alerting, updating and for the user to access it when remote from the location.
These changes in use case, have been paired with a transition from one variation of connectivity capability to the next each ten years or so, with 3G being launched in 2001, 4G in 2009 and 5G in 2019. Following the initial fanfare around 5G’s increased speed capabilities, came more robust benefit realisations, such as reduced latency, capacity for more connected devices less interference and better efficiencies.
5G has been deployed quickly and continues to grow at an accelerated rate, but what has not been clear to the average user is the technical variances going on under the covers of the rollouts. 5G deployments have been progressing around the world in differing forms using a range of spectrum bands; each band having different characteristics from data speeds achieved and signal propagation (reach and strength) giving them pros and cons in terms of achieving coverage for the customer.
For example, 5G is usually being deployed at a bandwidth of 3000-4000Mhz, with 4G as a comparison typically running at 800Mhz and the 900Mhz range tied up for many older 2G/3G services. Why is this important, well the lower the frequency band the further it can travel and the better it is at penetrating walls and other physical objects. So, for users in a rural area where the mast could be at a distance or those affected by weak signals when inside corporate buildings, they will value getting a reliable signal above pure speed advantage. With more than 70% of 5G traffic today taking place in indoor environments this is an important need for user acceptance and experience. Delivering 5G therefore on a wider national scale to service the masses has more specific nuances than just having 5G stations deployed, we need to think about the actual user experience and reach being achieved. The greater the user base and those able to utilise applications in an anytime manner, the greater the 5G adoption of endpoint devices shall be.
China has been the greatest adopter of 5G with over 70% of the global user base in 2020 and is seen as the baseline example for other regions to learn from. China is now in the process of rolling out the 700MHz 5G network, marking another milestone in the country’s leadership of 5G development. Huawei was awarded 60% of China Mobile’s 700Mhz network contract – the industry’s biggest contract of the year and also won the biggest share of the latest China Telecom-China Unicom contract. Two of the largest providers, China Mobile and China Broadcasting Network are to purchase over 480,000 700Mhz 5G base stations in the year ahead making this the largest deployment worldwide of 700Mhz 5G. With greater signal propagation capabilities, this will bring a significant advantage over the existing mid-band deployments and allow delivery into more remote communities and deliver improved indoor experience. Reaching a wider user base more consistently opens up new use cases and a greater reach for application providers stimulating innovation, which in turn begats greater demand for 5G and value to the customer.
For China, despite the major rollout of 5G since 2019 the reach is focused on the nation’s major cities due to the current deployment being majorly of the mid-band spectrum. The 700Mhz expansion will enable the reach to extend outwards to the wider rural communities and bring both economic and social benefit. Huawei currently has the biggest market share (over 50%) in China’s large 5G market and with their speed to deliver to the 700mhz this will expand not only the 5G adoption, but also Huawei’s leadership and domination of the market. The proving of this expansion in China will also bring acceleration to the global 5G opportunity.
Understanding the value of the lower band 5G is already increasing worldwide and we have already seen that telecommunication enhancements in one major market have repercussions globally. The 700Mhz acceleration in China will drive smartphone providers to support this bandwidth and hence drive a wider adoption in other regions as they review the benefits in the Chinese market and the need to support it anyways. Include the operator’s continual battle to offer the best national coverage and we can expect the next battleground to be the 700Mhz 5G war.
With growth of volume demand comes a market economy of scale where 5G equipment reduces in cost, further stimulating market growth and adoption. This new 5G development brings us all greater versatility and reason to see 5G as a game changer not only for the consumer mobile user, but for the transformation of business applications and models though removal of connectivity technical and cost barriers.
Personally, I now find that I take bandwidth and connectivity for granted and rely on applications day in-day out that only operate when connected. Often only realising this or the dependency when you find yourselves in an area where your signal drops to a lower 3G level or worse it goes all together or when in a building and you are pushed to find a way onto a Wi-Fi network to enable anything to work. We live in a world where being connected to ‘the network’ as a consumer is habitual and where business competitive need and advantage relies on its employees being connected; even more so in our post COVID world where we are seeing an unexpected and large growth in remote working as essential.
Huawei has Chinese domestic dominance in the 5G sector and has a proven continuous growth in its 5G business overseas, showing confidence in achieving strong business growth moving forwards. The bigger question in the next 3-5 years shall be whether this continued proving of Huawei in the 5G community and its home-grown dominance, will allow it to lift any of the political embargoes in other regions and further its revenue success in alignment to its technology progressions. We shall certainly see Huawei’s examples of baseline leadership setting the bar for what can be achieved for other geographic regions to aspire to; will this be enough to foster the re-opening of political doors, as if so we can expect Huawei to become a global 5G leader adding to its reputation as a communications innovator with a growing breadth of technological patents to its name.