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The U.S. 5G opportunity – is 2020 the year for take-off?

By Dylan Terry, Development Executive Enterprise Ireland 

It feels as though we have been talking about 5G deployment in the U.S. for an eternity. Is 2020 the year that 5G finally takes off? In this article, I will discuss the changing dynamics in the U.S. telco ecosystem that indicate 5G technology may finally becoming mainstream.

Anticipated launch of 5G enabled Apple iPhone

Perhaps the most significant event in 2020 for 5G commercialization is the predicted launch of Apple’s 5G-enabled iPhone in October. This will be Apple’s first foray into 5G-enabled devices and with a 42% share of the U.S. mobile device market, their predicted launch should have big implications on consumer expectations around 5G availability and coverage. As more 5G enabled IoT, Gaming, VR/AR, and cloud computing applications are launched, this consumer expectation will continue to grow, hence putting pressure on the MNOs to deploy 5G networks.

It would seem that Apple is also betting big on the 5G opportunity. In July of last year, they acquired Intel’s smartphone modem business for $1 billion with over 2,000 Intel employees joining Apple, along with Intel IP, equipment, and leases. This acquisition allows Apple to produce its own 5G modems for its smartphones, delivering benefits such as working on their own timelines, better integration, and the ability to develop new features.

Changing dynamics in the U.S. telecoms ecosystem

The U.S. telecom landscape has been unchanged for 10+ years with the four main operators (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint) maintaining a more than 95% market share. However, this market will see significant changes in 2020 that have the potential to bring genuine competitiveness to the industry with implications on 5G network deployment.

2020 started with a good omen for the future of 5G as the T-Mobile/Sprint merger was approved by the FCC. This merger has the potential to significantly impact the dynamics of the U.S. 5G market. Combining Sprint’s far-reach, fast and underused mid-band 5G wireless spectrum with T-Mobile’s wide-reaching, low frequency, low capacity network should allow them to provide a 5G offering with both increased speed and coverage. The new company is expected to have 5G speeds four to six times what they could have achieved on their own and plans to invest up to $40 billion building out its 5G network and business in the first three years.

In order to promote competition in the market, one of the stipulations of the above merger by the FCC was that a fourth player enters the wireless market. Dish Network, a satellite TV provider, were well positioned to be this player as they have been acquiring spectrum for a number of years. With additional Sprint spectrum allocated to them through the merger agreement, unsurprisingly Dish agreed to enter the market to become the fourth major nationwide operator.

Quite bullishly, Dish has committed to deploying a 5G network that serves 70% of the U.S. population by 2023. Charlie Ergen, Dish Network chairman indicates that building a 5G network from the ground-up may be a competitive advantage, stating, “The way to compete is to build a better network, not to build the same network using old technology”. This commitment to building a better, more modern network could result in Dish being a significant player in the U.S. 5G market.

The big U.S. telecoms players, Verizon and AT&T, are also stepping up their 5G offerings in 2020. Verizon has committed to doubling the number of cities with 5G coverage to 60 and recently announced a partnership with Amazon to bring cloud computing closer to their 5G network edge. AT&T plans to offer 15 5G-enabled phones in 2020 and to provide 5G coverage to 200 million people by mid-year. With the changing dynamics mentioned above, bringing increased competitiveness, are the big players realizing its time to step up?

Private enterprise networks

According to a survey by Gartner, two-thirds of enterprises plan to utilize 5G by 2020 with IoT and video applications as the key drivers. Enterprises can, of course, utilize 5G using standard public networks, however, the concept of private 5G enterprise networks is starting to build momentum. Private networks offer organizations key advantages such as increased security, reduced latency as data is stored locally, flexibility in configuration (coverage, spectrum slicing, etc.), and onsite installation/maintenance.

The U.S. private network movement took a big step forward in January as the FCC approved full commercial deployment of the OnGo service in the 3.5 GHz CBRS band, spectrum reallocated from military applications. OnGo delivers a flexible model for the sharing of spectrum and is likely to be the method of choice for enterprise private network deployments in the U.S.

According to a report from Deloitte, “By 2024, the value of cellular mobile equipment and services for use in private networks will likely add up to tens of billions of dollars annually”. This presents another opportunity in the U.S. 5G market as OnGo now supports configurations for 5G deployment. With Google, Nokia, AT&T, and Cisco all members of the CBRS Alliance, enterprise private networks have the potential to be a significant player in the U.S. 5G ecosystem.

The market potential

All told, 5G technologies are expected to contribute $2.2 trillion to the global economy over the next 15 years. One of the early drivers of this contribution is the heavy investment required to deploy 5G networks. Up until now, many of the 5G technologies were deployed by upgrading the existing 4G networks, known as non-standalone networks. This will work until the networks can no longer support the ever-increasing traffic, thus forcing the MNOs to build new additional sites (standalone networks) and increase the number of antennas. In a report by McKinsey & Company, they predict that in the U.S. the MNOs will reach this need for additional sites/antennas by 2020. Combine this with the launch of the 5G-enabled phone, changing dynamics in the telecoms landscape, and commercial deployment of private networks – 2020 could be a significant year for the 5G evolution in the U.S.

Globally focused Irish companies with strong 5G capabilities

Innovative Irish companies are strategically positioned to benefit from this increased deployment of 5G networks in the U.S. This is principally due to the commitment to R&D by Irish telecoms companies, putting them at the forefront of 5G technology.

Ireland has a reputation as being the heart of ICT in Europe, employing 37,000 people across both a strong indigenous and multinational scene. Ireland also has a strong history of innovation in the telecom’s arena – Aldiscon, an Irish company, developed the world’s first SMS texting application in the early 1990s. Today, leading Irish companies continue to innovate on the global stage. To that point, listed below is a snapshot of the Irish telecoms companies at the leading edge of the 5G evolution.

Alpha Wireless, who provided antenna solutions for the Super Bowl, are a market-leading specialist in designing and manufacturing high performing antenna solutions. Last year, in a UK-first, Alpha Wireless provided antennas for a 5G-enabled mobile network at the Millbrook Proving Ground that enabled self-driving vehicle testing. As the advent of 5G technologies takes hold, Alpha Wireless’ goal is to enable the rollout of next-generation telecommunications networks.

Benetel provides a unique combination of disruptive and differentiated radio platforms, services, and RF expertise. Benetel’s modular platform approach, such as its ORAN based 5G Radio Unit, provides scalable solutions for communication providers. In 2018 big industry players such as AT&T, China Mobile & Orange Mobile formed the ORAN alliance, showing a movement towards open interface solutions that Benetel provides.

Cubic Telecom is a global connectivity management software supplier that offers solutions powering connectivity for leading Internet of things (IoT), automotive and mobile device companies across the globe. Cubic works with leading companies such as Audi, Panasonic, Volkswagen and Woolworths, providing them with connectivity (5G supported) in over 180 countries.

Druid Software, a member of the CBRS alliance, provides cellular core applications for 5G, CBRS, IoT, Public Safety, Neutral Host, Patrol & Enterprise Communications. Druid supply core network technology and components to Global System Integrators and Network Equipment Providers and their Raemis ePC solution was recently deployed (using OnGo technology) at the 3 million square foot American Dream Entertainment & Retail Complex in New Jersey.

Openet, who last year entered into a partnership with Samsung Electronics to deliver 5G core network solutions, provides Business Support Systems (BSS) to some of the world’s leading service providers (AT&T, BT, Orange) enabling them to create new revenues from digital services, improve customer engagement and enjoy faster time to market. Openet has invested heavily to ensure its Digital BSS is 5G ready.

Software Radio Systems delivers open, auditable software for mobile wireless systems, providing custom product solutions, applications and modular, portable libraries for a range of wireless technologies including LTE and 5G NR. Previous projects of note include work with the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, and SmartSky, an air-to-ground connectivity provider for commercial aircraft.

Taoglas, a world-leading provider of RF antennas next-generation IoT solutions, has deployed innovative IoT projects across automotive, utilities, smart cities, healthcare, telematics, and more. Taoglas have an industry-leading portfolio of 5G antennas for both sub 6GHz and mmWave frequencies and were the first to market with antennas that support the 600MHz spectrum being used by T-Mobile to launch their nationwide 5G.

To learn more about how Irish telecoms innovators can help you, contact Dylan.terry@enterprise-ireland.com.

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