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CSP demand for 5G infrastructure is expected to remain robust for at least the next few years

Key Insights

Traditional RAN will remain the predominant architecture through 2025. Open vRAN will take time to mature and go mainstream.

Mobile broadband (MBB) and fixed wireless access (FWA) will remain primary use cases for 5G; government and enterprise pursuit of digital transformation wil drive other use cases.

APAC will lead the world in 5G investment through the forecast period. The U.S. and parts of Europe will be fast following, while most of rest of world will lag.

CSP demand for 5G infrastructure is expected to remain robust for at least the next few years; the issue is supply

TBR’s 5G Telecom Market Forecast details 5G trends among the most influential market players, including both suppliers and operators. This research includes current-year market sizing and a five-year forecast by multiple 5G market segments and by geographies well as examines growth drivers, top trends and leading market players. TBR’s 5G Telecom Market Landscape includes key findings, market size, customer adoption, operator positioning and strategies, geographic adoption, vendor positioning and strategies, and acquisition and alliance strategies and opportunities.

Most CSPs in developed countries will widely deploy 5G networks by mid-2020s

According to Technology Business Research, Inc.’s (TBR) 5G Telecom Market Forecast 2018-2023, an increasing number of CSPs globally, predominantly in developed countries, are accelerating and broadening the scope of their 5G build-outs, which prompted TBR to increase its 5G infrastructure market size forecast compared to 5G Telecom Market Forecast 2017-2022. There are a few reasons for this pull forward, including the need for CSPs to stay competitive for customers of traditional mobile broadband and high-speed internet services, reduce the cost-per-gigabyte of carrying traffic (network opex efficiencies), and build a foundation in preparation for new use cases of the network. The availability of 5G devices, including a variety of smartphones, in 2019 is another key driver prompting earlier infrastructure investment.

The software upgradeability of some newer LTE base stations will enable some CSPs to more quickly and seamlessly migrate to 5G. However, nearly all CSPs will need to deploy net-new 5G base stations and 5G mobile core over time as CSPs transition from a Non-Standalone (NSA) to Standalone 5G architecture. This seamless software upgradability of new RAN platforms to 5G will facilitate deployment at incremental cost, keeping overall 5G capex spend scaling quickly but at a relatively lower level compared to prior RAN generation upgrades.

Mobile broadband (MBB) and fixed wireless access (FWA) will be the two predominant use cases for 5G technology by CSPs through the forecast period, with other use cases materializing in the middle to later years of the forecast period, mostly as it pertains to machine-type communications such as massive IoT or mission-critical IoT.

Graph showing CSP 5G capex spend from 2018 to 2023

Cost of ‘intelligent connectivity’ must decline significantly for intelligent world to unfold

TBR perspective

Realizing the intelligent world presented by the mobile industry at Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2019 (MWC19) will require a fundamental change in how networks are architected, including a radical reduction in the cost of providing connectivity. It will also require business transformation for companies tied to the old world, namely communications service providers (CSPs) and their incumbent vendors.

It was readily apparent at the event that technology is advancing at a much faster pace than the establishment of business cases that economically justify deployment of the technology. The reality for the mobile industry is that the cost of building, owning and operating networks is too high and networks are too inflexible to support the business realities of the digital era, whereby connectivity is relegated to a commodity service and the value lies in the platforms and applications that run over the network. The industry has known this for years, but changes have been minimal, until maybe now.

The entrance of Rakuten to the mobile industry could be a game changer and provides a glimpse into what a digital service provider will look like. In what could arguably be the most important takeaway from the entire event, Rakuten’s approach to building and operating a network could signify a paradigm shift in the industry. Not only will Rakuten’s network be agile, flexible and dynamic to provide digital services, it will also enable a dramatic reduction in the cost of connectivity.

The theme of MWC19 was “intelligent connectivity” and centered on how 5G, IoT, AI and big data are coming together to enable the intelligent world. Against this backdrop, Rakuten stole the show with the evangelization of its end-to-end virtualized and cloud-native network, which is being deployed across Japan this year. Rakuten’s network provides a glimpse into what the intelligent network of the future will look like.