Originally Published by cnet
Author: Shara Tibken
The pandemic has caused hiccups in some regions, but the super-fast wireless tech keeps rolling out.
This was supposed to be the year 5G went mainstream. Huge swaths of the world would be blanketed with coverage. Every major handset maker — including Apple — would offer a wide variety ofphones. After years of hype and last year’s early deployments, consumers would finally start to enjoy the benefits of the super-fast wireless technology in a real way.
The virus, which causes a pneumonia-like disease called COVID-19, quickly spread across the globe, causing cities and entire countries to issue lockdowns to slow its advance. China, where COVID-19 was first detected in late 2019, shut down first, jamming up production of iPhones and other products. The rest of the world soon followed suit, and the global economy all but ground to a halt.
“In our lifetimes we’ve never seen a faster economic collapse,” Strategy Analytics analyst Ken Hyers said.
The result is a shattering of the buoyant optimism of just six months ago. Millions of people are out of work, and the world has recorded over 10 million COVID-19 infections. But even if the coronavirus has slowed down the rollout of 5G in heavily hit areas such as the US, it’s not going to stop 5G’s progress.
The continued advance of 5G is more critical than ever now that the coronavirus has radically changed our world. People are stuck at home and are maintaining their distance from each other, forcing them to rely on home broadband service —. The next-generation cellular technology, which boasts anywhere from 10 to 100 times the speed of 4G and rapid-fire responsiveness, could improve everything from simple video conferencing to telemedicine and advanced augmented and virtual reality.
“The potential resilience and broad connectivity that [5G] offers … [means] people are really going to say, ‘Yeah, I probably need that,'” said David Harold, chief marketing officer at graphics chip tech designer Imagination Technologies. And they need 5G not just to download videos faster but to stay connected to their loved ones and colleagues. Applications enabled by 5G “suddenly feel like urgent tech,” Harold said.
The demands have gotten every network carrier and handset designer around the globe to focus on the technology, and despite everything, The rollout of 5G has advanced faster than that of 4G LTE in its early days. Even with the pandemic, most, if not all, of the pieces will be in place for 5G to go mainstream this year. Network coverage should be broad, and companies will offer 5G phones aplenty. The only true wild card is whether anyone will buy them — and just how much they’ll cost.
Even as headlines emerged from Wuhan, China, about the novel coronavirus, life went on as usual with CES in Las Vegas in January and Samsung’s Galaxy S20 launch in early February. But the tone began to change after the cancellation of conferences such as Mobile World Congress later in February. The show was scrapped the day after Samsung’s Unpacked event — and just a week before journalists were supposed to descend into Barcelona, Spain.
MWC, the world’s biggest mobile conference, was the place where 5G was supposed to really break out. This year’s show was slated to feature new 5G phones from nearly every major Android vendor, as well as updates about the networks further embracing the technology.
The impact on 5G of losing MWC is incalculable. This is where network carriers and phone makers strike up deals. The world’s first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1 from a decade ago, came about partly because of a dinner held at MWC. The next marquee 5G device could have emerged from a chat over tapas.
Five days after MWC’s cancellation, Apple issued a rare warning, saying the coronavirus was taking a bigger toll on its operations than it thought. At the time, it was being hurt by a shutdown in China, one of its key markets and the location where most of its devices are made. “Worldwide iPhone supply will be temporarily constrained,” Apple said at the time.
The coronavirus has impacted other companies, as well. Samsung in late April warned that the pandemic would “significantly” hurt its various businesses and cautioned that “5G network investments may face reductions or delays” in Korea and around the globe. COVID-19 ravaged the world at the same time Samsung introduced its most important device of the year, the Galaxy S20.
All of that culminated in the smartphone industry seeing its biggest ever drop in shipments in February, down 38% to 61.8 million units, according to Strategy Analytics. The firm attributed the “huge” drop to a collapse in demand in Asia.
Even though the lockdowns expanded across Europe and North America, nothing was quite as bad as the time China was offline.
Yet its recovery has been just as rapid as its shutdown.
Despite all the noise about 5G here, the epicenter of investment in the next-generation technology is actually in China.
While China suffered from the coronavirus first, most areas of the country have now largely recovered. Citizens have been returning to work and heading to stores and restaurants. Increasingly, 5G is becoming one of the must-haves for Chinese shoppers, and researchers have found that even with uncertainty in the world, people in China are still buying smartphones and carriers are building out their networks.
“China is really in full deployment,” said Joy Tan, Huawei’s senior vice president of public affairs. “Most of the cities are back to normal.”
Ericsson, the Swedish networking giant, expects 5G to be in about twice as many hands in 2020 as it had predicted late last year. The total number of subscribers should reach 190 million this year, with the bulk coming from China. Conversely, North America and Europe won’t be quite as strong as the company previously projected.
“It’s driven very much by China,” said Patrick Cerwall, head of strategic marketing insights at Ericsson. The country has worked hard on “having devices in shops and making sure that people are then upgrading with good packages.”
Still, Ericsson expects the areas outside China to recover and be on pace with the company’s earlier predictions by the end of 2025. While the percentage of China’s population using 5G will be higher initially, North America will catch up in a year or two, Cerwall said. At that point, about 20% of people in North America will subscribe to 5G services. That jumps to 75% by the end of 2025.
This all assumes 5G will actually get rolled out.
Building the 5G foundation
5G uptake relies on two things: network availability and handsets. When it comes to the network side, COVID-19 hasn’t hurt the rollout.
All of the carriers in the US continue to turn on 5G service in more markets, as do providers in China and other regions. It’s Europe and Canada where things are more uncertain.
Major Canadian and European carriers have launched 5G, but the pandemic has raised questions about how fast their networks can expand. 5G spectrum auctions have been delayed in Canada and parts of the European Union because of the pandemic, pushing out the launch of 5G in some areas by several months or longer. The spectrum auction for Canada was slated for December but will now be held next summer, according to the CBC.
Read original article at cnet.com.