In the last few years, 5G has been touted as the next big thing in the world of mobile technology. With promises of lightning-fast internet speeds, increased connectivity, and low latency, it was supposed to revolutionize the way we live, work and interact with one another. However, the rollout of 5G hasn’t gone as smoothly as many had hoped. So, what happened to 5G, and why hasn’t it lived up to the hype? Let’s take a closer look.
The Promises of 5G
When 5G was first announced, the hype was palpable. Many people believed that this new technology would usher in a new era of innovation and prosperity, with potential benefits in areas such as healthcare, education, and transportation. Here are some of the most commonly cited advantages of 5G:
- Faster speeds: 5G was expected to deliver internet speeds that were 100 times faster than the current 4G networks. This would mean faster downloads, smoother streaming, and virtually no buffering.
- Lower latency: Latency is the delay between sending and receiving data. 5G was supposed to have much lower latency than previous networks, making it ideal for applications such as autonomous vehicles and virtual reality.
- Increased connectivity: 5G was expected to connect many more devices than 4G, leading to the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution. This would allow devices such as smart homes, wearables, and sensors to communicate with each other more seamlessly.
Here are some sectors 5G was supposed to change
- Healthcare: 5G was expected to revolutionize healthcare by enabling remote monitoring, virtual consultations, and even remote surgeries. The low latency and high speeds of 5G would make it possible for doctors to diagnose and treat patients in real-time, no matter where they are located. For example, 5G-enabled remote surgery could allow surgeons to perform procedures on patients from a different location, reducing the need for travel and in-person appointments.
- Transportation: 5G was expected to make transportation safer, more efficient, and more connected. By enabling the widespread use of autonomous vehicles, 5G could reduce traffic accidents and improve traffic flow. Additionally, 5G could make it possible for cars to communicate with each other and with traffic infrastructure, allowing for more efficient routing and reduced congestion.
- Education: 5G was expected to enable a new era of remote learning and online education. With faster speeds and lower latency, 5G could make it possible for students to attend virtual classes and collaborate on projects in real-time. Additionally, 5G could enable the widespread use of augmented reality and virtual reality in education, allowing for more immersive and engaging learning experiences.
- Entertainment: 5G was expected to revolutionize the way we consume entertainment by enabling higher-quality streaming, immersive gaming experiences, and more interactive content. For example, 5G could make it possible for people to stream 4K or even 8K video without buffering and could enable the widespread use of augmented and virtual reality in entertainment.
Overall, 5G was expected to have a significant impact on many sectors, with the potential to transform the way we live, work, and interact with each other. However, the rollout of 5G has faced significant challenges, and it may take some time before the technology becomes widely adopted and fully realized.
Some Challenges 5G rollout faced
Despite the promises of 5G, the rollout of this new technology has faced numerous challenges. Here are some of the most significant ones:
- Infrastructure limitations: 5G requires a significant amount of new infrastructure, such as small cells, fibre optic cables, and new radio equipment. This has proved to be a significant challenge, especially in countries with a lot of existing infrastructure.
- Spectrum availability: 5G requires a new type of spectrum that is different from the one used by 4G. However, this new spectrum is in limited supply, making it challenging to roll out 5G networks on a large scale.
- Regulatory issues: The rollout of 5G is subject to various regulatory issues, such as environmental concerns, safety issues, and spectrum allocation. This has led to delays and added costs for many 5G providers.
Regulation has played a significant role in the rollout of 5G globally, as different countries have taken different approaches to spectrum allocation, infrastructure deployment, and network security. Here are some examples of how regulation has affected 5G rollout in different regions:
- United States: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US has taken a market-based approach to 5G deployment, with an emphasis on freeing up spectrum and reducing regulatory barriers to infrastructure deployment. The FCC has auctioned off large amounts of spectrum for 5G use, and has taken steps to streamline the process for installing small cells and other infrastructure. However, the US government has also taken a strong stance on network security, with the recent ban on Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE from participating in US 5G networks.
- Europe: The European Union (EU) has taken a more cautious approach to 5G rollout, with an emphasis on ensuring network security and avoiding potential conflicts with other countries. The EU has issued guidelines for member states on 5G security, including recommendations to avoid high-risk suppliers and to strengthen security requirements for network operators. The EU has also encouraged member states to coordinate their approach to 5G deployment and to avoid fragmentation of the European market.
- China: The Chinese government has taken an active role in promoting 5G deployment, with significant investments in infrastructure and spectrum allocation. The government has set ambitious targets for 5G coverage and has provided subsidies to help accelerate deployment. However, the Chinese government has also been criticized for its lack of transparency and for potential security concerns, particularly with regard to the involvement of Chinese companies like Huawei in foreign 5G networks.
- South Korea: The South Korean government has taken a proactive approach to 5G deployment, with a focus on infrastructure investment and regulation. The government has provided significant funding for 5G infrastructure and has taken steps to streamline the approval process for new network equipment. South Korea was one of the first countries to launch 5G services in 2019, and has since become a leader in 5G adoption.
Overall, the regulatory environment for 5G deployment has varied widely across different regions, with different approaches to spectrum allocation, infrastructure deployment, and network security. While some countries have taken a more market-based approach to 5G deployment, others have emphasized network security and coordination with other countries. These regulatory differences have had a significant impact on the pace and direction of 5G rollout in different regions.
In Africa, the rollout of 5G has been slower compared to other regions, largely due to a combination of factors including the high cost of infrastructure deployment, limited availability of spectrum, and regulatory challenges. Here are some examples of how regulation has affected 5G rollout in Africa:
- Spectrum allocation: One of the key challenges for 5G deployment in Africa has been the limited availability of spectrum. Many African countries have not yet released spectrum for 5G use, which has limited the ability of network operators to launch 5G services. In addition, some countries have allocated spectrum for 5G use but at high prices, making it difficult for network operators to invest in 5G infrastructure.
- Infrastructure deployment: Another challenge for 5G deployment in Africa is the high cost of infrastructure deployment. Building out 5G networks requires significant investments in infrastructure, such as towers, fibre optic cables, and other equipment. In many African countries, the cost of building this infrastructure is high, which has limited the ability of network operators to roll out 5G services.
- Regulatory challenges: Regulatory challenges have also been a factor in the slower rollout of 5G in Africa. Some countries have complex and time-consuming approval processes for new network equipment, which can delay the deployment of 5G infrastructure. Additionally, some African countries have been slower to adopt regulatory frameworks for 5G, which can create uncertainty for network operators.
Despite these challenges, some African countries have made progress in rolling out 5G networks. For example, South Africa launched 5G services in 2020, and several other countries, including Kenya and Nigeria, have allocated spectrum for 5G use. Additionally, some African countries have taken steps to address regulatory challenges and streamline the approval process for new network equipment. While the rollout of 5G in Africa may be slower than in other regions, there is still potential for the technology to have a significant impact on the continent in the future.
The Huawei Ban Effect
The Huawei ban in the West has had an impact on the rollout of 5G networks in some regions. In 2019, the US government placed Huawei on an Entity List, which restricted US companies from doing business with the Chinese tech giant. This ban has been extended to other countries, including the UK, Australia, Sweden and Canada, which have limited Huawei’s involvement in their 5G networks.
Huawei is one of the world’s largest suppliers of telecommunications equipment, including 5G technology. The company’s equipment is widely used in 5G networks around the world, including in many Western countries. The ban has created uncertainty for network operators and slowed down the rollout of 5G networks in some regions.
The ban has also created a competitive disadvantage for network operators in some countries, as they may be forced to use more expensive equipment from other vendors. This can increase the cost of building 5G networks, which can slow down their deployment and limit the availability of 5G services.
In addition to the Huawei ban, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact on the rollout of 5G networks. Lockdowns, supply chain disruptions, and other challenges have slowed down the deployment of 5G infrastructure in some regions, although the pandemic has also highlighted the importance of reliable and fast telecommunications networks.
The Reality of 5G
Despite the challenges, many countries have made significant progress in rolling out 5G networks. Here are some of the current state of 5G deployment worldwide:
- Leading countries: The United States, China, and South Korea are currently the most advanced countries in terms of 5G deployment, with many cities and regions already having access to 5G networks.
- Adoption rate: Although 5G is being rolled out at a faster pace than 4G, it is still in its infancy in many parts of the world. According to a report by Ericsson, only 8% of mobile subscriptions worldwide are 5G as of 2021.
- Cost: 5G devices and plans are more expensive than their 4G counterparts, making it challenging for many consumers to upgrade to 5G.
The Future of 5G
Despite the challenges and slow adoption rate, 5G still holds a lot of promise for the future. Here are some of the potential future developments and advancements in 5G technology:
- Network slicing: Network slicing is a technology that allows network operators to divide their networks into multiple virtual networks. This will allow them to offer different services to different users with different requirements, such as high-speed internet, low latency, or high reliability. Network slicing will enable 5G to support a more diverse set of use cases and applications, such as remote surgery, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities.
- Edge computing: Edge computing is a technology that brings computing power closer to the source of data, reducing latency and increasing efficiency. By combining 5G and edge computing, applications can be processed and analysed in real-time, allowing for faster decision-making and better user experiences.
- Increased adoption in various industries: 5G is expected to revolutionize many industries, such as healthcare, transportation, and manufacturing. For example, 5G-enabled remote surgery could make it possible for surgeons to operate on patients from anywhere in the world, while 5G-enabled autonomous vehicles could significantly reduce traffic accidents.
In conclusion, while the rollout of 5G has faced numerous challenges, this new technology still holds a lot of promise for the future. With faster speeds, lower latency, and increased connectivity, 5G has the potential to revolutionize many industries and applications.
The adoption of 5G has been slowed down by several factors, including infrastructure limitations, spectrum availability, and regulatory issues.
Infrastructure limitations refer to the fact that the rollout of 5G networks requires significant investments in infrastructure, such as towers, fiber optic cables, and other equipment. This is because 5G networks require a higher density of antennas and base stations than previous generations of wireless technology. The cost of building this infrastructure can be prohibitively high, especially in rural or low-income areas, which has limited the rollout of 5G networks in some regions.
Spectrum availability is another factor that has slowed down the adoption of 5G. 5G networks require access to a range of different frequency bands, including high-band frequencies that can deliver high speeds but have limited range, and mid-band frequencies that can provide a balance between speed and coverage. However, the availability of these frequency bands varies by country, and some regions have not yet allocated sufficient spectrum for 5G use.
Regulatory issues have also been a factor in the slow adoption of 5G. Regulations around spectrum allocation, infrastructure deployment, and network security can differ widely across different regions, which can create uncertainty and delay the rollout of 5G networks. For example, some countries have complex and time-consuming approval processes for new network equipment, which can delay the deployment of 5G infrastructure.
To address these challenges, significant investments in infrastructure and spectrum allocation are needed. Governments, network operators, and other stakeholders must work together to find ways to reduce the cost of building 5G infrastructure and to allocate more spectrum for 5G use. Additionally, regulatory frameworks must be updated to create a more streamlined and predictable environment for 5G deployment. While progress has been made in rolling out 5G networks, much work still needs to be done to ensure that the benefits of this technology are realized on a global scale.
As we move forward, it will be interesting to see how 5G develops and what kind of new use cases and applications it will enable.