5G Now and in the Future

ByKen Hu

November 1, 2021

Ken Hu

  • 5G achievements include 176 commercial networks, 1.5 million base stations, 500 million users.
  • But, while 5G is much faster than 4G, it’s not yet game-changing.
  • Cloud, AI & 5G are must-haves for enterprises in the digital era.

With 5G racing from a single pilot network to large-scale rollout in just five years, it’s a good time to take stock of where we are now, where we’re going, and how we get there.

And that’s exactly what we did at our 12th Global Mobile Broadband Forum last week in Dubai, with speakers from Vodafone, Zain, and Etisalat among an expert gathering of industry leaders giving their unique insights into the direction of telecommunications.

In this two-part blog series, I reexamine the topics I covered at the forum:

  1. Where we’re currently at with 5G from the perspective of carriers, consumers, industries, enterprises, and technology.
  2. Key trends that will be shaping the future, including the evolution of 5G to 5.5G.

5G’s Emergence

When ITU first released its vision for 5G back in 2015, hopes were high thatthe latest generation of wireless tech would deliver stratospheric speeds framed within much higher bandwidth, much lower latency, and massive capacity.

5G would be the game-changer, shaping a world where everything is connected from watches to glasses to shoes. A world with exciting new services for consumers, like VR, AR, holograms, and connected vehicles that would also represent a goldmine for carriers. And a world where industries would be redefined and that would in turn redefine our lives.

So, Where are We Now?

Many goals have been met, and some have been surpassed. For example, no one expected 5G to get deployed so fast, but it was: 176 commercial 5G networks have been deployed globally, supported by more than 1.5 million base stations. And today, there are more than 500 million 5G users around the world — 20 times more than 4G at the same stage of deployment.

This is in large part because the industry chain is in great shape. From network equipment to devices to chips, everything was ready in time for network deployment – a first in the mobile industry. And that’s especially true for terminals. More than 1,000 5G terminals are on the market, including CPEs and industry modules.

What about the Money?

When it comes to carrier revenue, it’s the first movers — especially in China and South Korea — that are starting to see double-digit growth after deploying 5G. Of course, that’s not the case for everyone just yet, and this is an area that we all need to work on.

How about the Consumer Side?

We’ve seen significant improvements in user experience, especially speed, with average 5G download speeds nine times faster than 4G. 5G is also powering new services, like VR applications and 360-degree broadcasting, which are already common in places like China and South Korea.

We’re seeing several trends accelerate in mobile consumer habits, including all-video, all-HD, all-online and all-social.

In the past two years, mobile HD video has become a new norm, replacing SD to become an expected service. In China, HD video now accounts for 54% of traffic on 5G networks. During the pandemic, we’ve also seen a sharp increase in wireless home broadband, with demand growing by about 20% globally.

In particular, this trend has been rising in the Middle East, which is the strongest market for 5G home broadband. We heard from Zain that the data traffic per user per month (DoU) for 5G fixed wireless access is 10 times the DoU for 4G, reaching about 10 GB per household per day.

But, while 5G is much faster than 4G, it’s not yet game-changing.

We promised consumers 6-second HD movie downloads and seamless VR, yet the actual experience falls short of that. While it’s true that we have many new and exciting applications, they aren’t widely available, even in areas with mature 5G networks.

So, we still have some work to do.

The same is true on the industry side.

We’re seeing more and more 5G applications for businesses, with over 10,000 5GtoB projects running around the world. We have made solid progress in areas like manufacturing, mining, and ports, with 5G powering a smarter, safer, and more efficient work environment.

In Ningbo Zhoushan port, crane operators can work in an office due to the speed and latency advantages of 5G

Read more: Working with 5G: Safer, Smarter & People-First

But the fact is, half of 5GtoB projects are in China, and we’re not seeing widespread adoption in other parts of the world.

One of the major promises of 5G was to transform industries, and while we’ve made good progress, we still have a long way to go. I’m not downplaying the achievements we’ve made, but I believe that we need a clear picture of where we are, so we can be clear about what we need to work on moving forward.

5G development didn’t happen in a bubble. We’re seeing rapid changes and advancements in the broader tech sector, in consumer habits, and the overall business environment.

Convergence of Cloud, AI & 5G

Cloud and AI have been advancing at a rapid pace. Even a few short years ago, most companies weren’t convinced that cloud was the way forward. That’s no longer the case – 81% of organizations globally are using cloud computing and cloud-based applications. AI is a major driver behind this change, because it helps organizations create more value with their data in the cloud. Right now, AI is being used in all sectors and the number of enterprise users keeps growing.

At the same time, cloud and AI are driving demand for better connectivity, which is good news for 5G, but we still have to improve network coverage and performance to meet these new demands.

Digital Transformation

The enterprise sector is also undergoing changes, with the pandemic having accelerated digital transformation by about 7 years. Digital technology is no longer playing a support role and is instead moving towards core production systems, for example, by enabling AI to speed up vaccine development. Moving forward, cloud and AI are must-haves for enterprises. While 5G isn’t the only choice for digital transformation for the time being, we expect to see greater adoption as 5GtoB solutions mature.

This is where the world is at right now with 5G from the perspectives of progress and the broader ecosystem, including technology, consumers, enterprises, and carriers.

So, what actions do we need to take to build the future we envisioned back in 2015?

Stay tuned for part two in which I’ll be looking at how we move forward, including my recommendations for the following areas:

  • Green 5G
  • Extended Reality
  • 5.5G
  • 5GtoB

Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.

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Ken Hu

Rotating Chairman, Huawei

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