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2019 meaningful revenues elusive, but opportunity knocks from enterprise for 5G

Research from 5G engagements reveal where investment is strongest, the trends that are driving roll-outs and the road ahead for operators, network equipment manufacturers and device makers

The inaugural 5G outlook report from network test, assurance and analytics provider Spirent has found that while 2019 did not take off for 5G as many in the industry expected, the outlook appears rosier for 2020.

The 5G: What to expect in 2020 report was drawn on the company’s work with operators, network equipment manufacturers and device makers, and is said to reveal accelerated 5G timetables as strategies shift in search of market differentiation and a quicker path to revenue growth. It looks at the company’s own 5G testing engagements to explore what went as planned, where there were stumbles and where the outlook is brightest.

A number of key themes were identified: 5G standalone networks were coming earlier than expected; smartphone performance challenges extend beyond the device itself; experiences were not optimised to “wow” consumers; assurance is now a requirement, not an afterthought, and some of 5G’s biggest advancements were happening underground.

Looking at the first area of concern, the report found that 2019 brought worldwide 5G non-standalone deployments, but meaningful revenues were elusive as operators struggled to break out with market-defining services that could ignite consumer enthusiasm. There was an identified rush to move past non-standalone (NSA) to standalone (SA) roll-outs in an effort to capture revenues in industries such as manufacturing, automotive and manufacturing, and beyond. Based on testing timetables, Spirent expects a slate of 5G SA deployments in the first half of 2020.

Regarding 5G devices, Spirent found that device performance pains stemmed from issues related to the number of antennas that must be packed into devices, but also observed challenges introduced by 5G New Radio, which was not tuned to exploit all capabilities defined within standards. It noted that the result of this sometimes produced a performance that looked more like 4G LTE.

In those cases where 5G did deliver the speeds anticipated, the study found that feature sets and apps were not optimised to take advantage of the extra throughput speed and bandwidth, meaning consumers couldn’t discern a major experience difference.

Spirent expects mobile gaming to be among the earliest consumer use cases to capitalise on customised 5G performance boosts, and predicted that operators would seek to shore up network performance in a bid to deliver the robustness and reliability that will be demanded by enterprise customers.

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Significantly, the research stated that ultimately it would be transport networks that would support the data deluge 5G is expected to attract. It said that significant investment was moving towards assuring these networks won’t collapse under heavy demand, with expansive testing efforts underway right now.

“It’s an invigorating time for our industry because the speed at which the 5G market is moving demands stakeholders forgo extensive lab testing and years of careful planning, and emphasise a live testing approach driven by experimentation, swift responsiveness to global trends and the forging of new paths,” said Steve Douglas, head of 5G at Spirent.

“It is these engagements that give us a view of the road ahead for what will be the most consequential next-gen network roll-out mobile has ever undertaken.”

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

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