Europe is at risk of falling behind further “than ever before” in the mobile industry as other parts of the world dominate the early stages of 5G, claims a report from CCS Insight.
Analysts say significant industry momentum, such as trials, hardware development and infrastructure deployment have contributed to more optimistic forecasts for 5G adoption, but none more so than the finalisation of the first standard.
It is expected that the first commercial 5G services will go live in 2019 – one year earlier than previously thought – but intense competition between the US and Asia could see a limited rollout in late 2018.
While the US, South Korea and Japan will be first to the market, it is anticipated that China will eventually become the dominant player, accounting for four in ten connections.
The report predicts there will be 60 million connections by 2020 – 50 per cent more than previous estimates – and 280 million by 2021. By 2026, it is believed there will be 2.3 billion 5G connections.
But despite suggestions that truly revolutionary applications such as autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things (IoT) will be the “killer applications” for 5G, it will be enhanced mobile broadband and demand for video that will spur initial adoption, say analysts. Indeed, even as late as 2025, mobile broadband will account for 98 per cent of all connections.
"The industry might be struggling to establish the business models for investment in 5G, but this isn't stopping leading operators battling for bragging rights to launch the first networks,” explains Kester Mann, Principal Analyst covering operators at CCS Insight.
“Competitive forces and the need for capacity are the leading drivers of early deployment, although we caution this could set unrealistic expectations for initial network capability".
However market fragmentation, increasingly strict regulation and a focus on 4G means Europe is further back in the race to 5G. CCS Insight predicts that the 100 million barrier will only be breached in 2023.
The UK has ambitions to be a 5G leader thanks to its research capabilities and startup community. It held its first 5G spectrum auction last week, with 3.4GHz airwaves that will power the first wave of services up for sale.
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.