News Feature | August 6, 2019

The Week in 5G: 8/6/2019 — Verizon, AT&T, SK Telecom Bullish On Rollouts; ZTE Launches China's First 5G Phone; 5G-Capable MacBooks On The Horizon

By Ed Biller


Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg has a sunny outlook on 5G wireless technology in the United States, telling CNBC in an interview last week that he expects about half of the U.S. to have “functioning 5G wireless technology” by 2020. As a caveat, Vestberg noted that he doesn’t think half of the U.S. population will invest in 5G phones until at least 2024.

The interview came on the heels of an announcement by Verizon last Wednesday that it would expand its 5G service location to include Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Washington.

Breaking into the Big Apple, AT&T switched on its mmWave 5G network in New York, though the rollout currently is limited to business users and developers, and confined to areas "near and around East Village, Greenwich Village and Gramercy Park," read a company press release.

CNET reports, “Though limited in range, New York becomes the twenty-first city where AT&T has deployed 5G, extending the company's early lead in the 5G race over Verizon (nine cities), T-Mobile (six) and Sprint (five).

Also in the U.S., T-Mobile announced July 31 that it had accomplished “the world’s first standalone 5G data session on a multi-vendor 5G next generation radio access and core network -- and the first standalone 5G data session of any kind in North America.”

T-Mobile leadership has stated that the company plans to introduce standalone 5G in 2020.

In Germany, Ericsson and Vodafone have teamed to launch a commercial 5G network. At a press event in Düsseldorf on July 16, Vodafone Germany CEO Hannes Ametsreiter activated the first 5G base stations, “bringing 5G connectivity to over 20 towns and cities,” stated an Aug. 5 Ericsson release. The statement added that the partnership aims to provide 5G to 20 million people in Germany by the end of 2021.

In South Korea, 5G implementation is well underway: carrier SK Telecom expects to reach 1 million subscribers in the 5G segment in August, and more than 2 million 5G subscribers by the end of the year, Sk Telecom CFO Poong-Young Yoon told investors during a conference call.

“And in 2020, considering current trends continue, we expect that numbers to reach 7 million subscribers,” Yoon said, according to an RCR Wireless report. “In order for our users to experience 5G service and its benefits quicker, we are currently pursuing an efficient coverage expansion strategy by building four main clusters, namely, service, major commercial areas, summer and B2B.”

In Japan, a trade conflict with South Korea has stymied the nation’s 5G rollout — an initiative seen as vital to the success of the Tokyo-hosted 2020 Summer Olympics, reports VentureBeat’s Jeremy Horwitz.

Should Japan overcome these hurdles and implement its desired 5G networks before the Summer Olympics, Horwitz postulates that Apple has an opportunity to establish a firm Japanese market for its iPhone. Assuming the trade row isn’t solved by then, a void would be created by the absence of South Korea-based Samsung’s S10 5G and LG V50 ThinQ 5G phones, and it is unlikely that China-based Huawei’s devices could crack the Japanese market, given current U.S. security concerns. 

In other unfortunate news for Huawei, China telecom ZTE beat its competitor to the 5G phone punch this week, launching the Axon 10 Pro 5G on Monday, reports state-run Xinhau news. Huawei is set to launch its first 5G phone in China on Aug 16, 2019.

ZTE’s phone is “equipped with a 6.47-inch AMOLED display and features a triple camera setup which includes a 48-megapixel main sensor, an ultra-wide 20-megapixel lens and an 8-megapixel telephoto lens,” reports Xinhau, adding that the handset is supported by each of China’s three major operators — China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom.

Apple, meanwhile, intends to add 5G-capable MacBooks to its 5G-capable iPhone and iPad lineup in 2020, according to reports from several sources. Taiwan’s Digitimes reports that the new MacBooks will use ceramic 5G antennas to double wireless speeds and ensure more stable connections, all but ensuring a significant price hike for the devices.

If you want to take your wireless show on the road, electronic vehicle startup Human Horizons recently introduced the HiPhi 1, a “luxury electric SUV” that is “reportedly the first production car with a 5G link to connected cars and cities,” reports endgadget.

From the road to the air, MarketsandMarkets projects the 5G market in aviation will grow from $0.5 billion in 2021 to $3.9 billion by 2026, driven by “increasing demand for predictive, prescriptive, and condition-based maintenance through data shared by connected aircraft,” as well as commercial passengers’ demand for a more comfortable, connected flight experience.

As different nations approach 5G spectrum allocation differently — operators have rebelled against high spectrum auction prices in Italy and Germany; auctions have brought lower-than-expected revenues in the U.S.; China simply assigned licenses to its carriers — Nic Fildes of Financial Times takes a comprehensive look at the mixed bag of results thus far.

Fildes concludes that it’s too early to tell whether governments who view these auctions as cash cows are crippling their own 5G rollouts (by inhibiting carriers’ financial ability to create 5G infrastructure), or whether governments taking a different approach will end up at the forefront of 5G.