Which continent is lagging behind the most in 5G early adoption?

12 Apr 2018

Image: Tadej Pibernik/Shutterstock

When it comes to 5G early adoption, Europe is languishing far behind the US and Asia, prompting fears it will be permanently left behind.

At the recent Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the hosts were keen to showcase the technological prowess of the country, including the first broad-scale 5G network bringing gigabit connectivity and low latency to the slopes.

But, in Europe – and western Europe in particular – it seems as if bringing such a network to a national or continental level is far from reaching the heights already achieved not only by South Korea, but Asia and the US overall.

According to a report published by CCS Insight, there has been impressive global progress made across the industry in terms of the early adoption of 5G connectivity.

Since the ratification of the non-standalone specifications for 5G in late 2017, a flurry of operators have taken on the task of launching the first networks as early as the end of the year in some cases.

Looking at the numbers, there will be an estimated 60m 5G connections by the end of the decade, rising more than 50pc since the last report released in October 2017.

By 2021, this figure will have increased to 280m connections; by 2025, it will have skyrocketed to 2.7bn.

But, while China is expected to dominate the world stage in 5G connectivity with more than 1bn connections alone by 2025 – amounting to four in 10 global connections – western Europe will likely only pass the 100m connections mark in early 2023.


5G connections by region 2018 to 2025. Graph: CCS Insights

Lack of cohesion

While some operators – such as Telia, Telecom Italia and Deutsche Telekom – have shown an appetite for the technology, the report went on to say that the region is hindered by market fragmentation, lack of scale, increasing regulation and operators’ preference to focus on 4G networks.

“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,” said CCS Insight’s principal analyst covering operators, Kester Mann.

“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.”

Despite 5G being identified as key to the roll-out of advanced technologies such as autonomous cars and the internet of things, the report cites the biggest future demand still coming from mobile devices hungry for video content.

This will see the biggest ramp-up in 5G interest in 2021, with an estimated 350m compatible handsets expected to be sold worldwide.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic