5G Anthropology

It took almost eight years or 32 quarters for 4G to reach 400M subs. For 5G the pace was achieved in only 10 quarters. 5G cycle started in Q2 2019 and after two years it is starting to gain substantial momentum. The main activity is concentrated in China, South Korea, and US with Japan joining in early 2021. So far, the 5G cycle is proceeding as expected – China dominates the net-adds, South Korea the percentage penetration, and US the revenue. As the nations adjusted to the menacing pandemic, some like India delayed their auctions and launches while others continued with their plans and even accelerated them due to the surging demand of mobile Internet.

One big difference from past cycles is that the devices have been introduced at a very rapid pace, much faster than the network roll out. As of Q3 2021, there were over 1150 announced models with over 750 in the market. The price range is also quite healthy with $200 5G devices proliferating in the market along with the high-end iPhone and Galaxy phones.

As the deployments of 5G have accelerated so has the noise around it. Given the importance regulators and governments have placed on 5G and its implications, there are narratives and stories developing every day. To benchmark the progress, to make sense of the competitive positioning, policy making, and potential revenue, we introduced the “5G Maturing Model” to understand the complexity of 5G growth and lifecycle. The global economy, supply-chains, and the ecosystems are complex, and one cannot reduce an important topic of assessing maturity to mere soundbites. More than the race, we need to measure progress and maturity, so, policy makers and ecosystem players can do course correction as needed.

The development of the “5G Maturity Model” or “5G Race” is complex because there are a number of elements that go into analyzing the progress and impact of 5G. Countries come in different shapes and sizes, different GDP, and economic fabric, different ARPUs and ARPAs, and different consumer behavior and spending propensity. One must normalize all of that to get a better assessment of who is ahead at a given moment. Even though, some of the interpretation of the data will be subjective but our hope is that by building a more comprehensive model that can be iterated over time, one can develop a better lens that can peer through the growth trajectory curves. We have had more than two years to assess progress in China, US, South Korea, and other countries. More specifically, we gained insights into consumer revenue streams, how fast are they growing, how is the usage growing, what are some of the early industrial and enterprise use cases that are gaining traction, and in the end if the competitive positioning has shifted since last year’s assessment.

Each of the variables in our model provides an important input to the model and framework but independently they can only provide an incomplete story at best. To be intellectually honest about the assessment, we must get past the hysteria and develop an iterative framework that can stand the test of time and can prove to be a useful tool for everyone involved. It should be free from bias and be forward looking. The relative progress can spur the governments, operators, and local ecosystems to become more energized and inspired to move fast. Being first does not necessarily give one an inherent advantage unless it is followed up with an effort to build a robust ecosystem to take advantage of the new cycle. Just launching a few base stations or small cells might earn you a few useless press releases but little else.

Our 5G Maturity Model was introduced in 2019 and has since been embraced by industry participants, policy makers and investors to assess roadmaps and opportunities. The model looks at 25 different variables across five different dimensions for 16 major markets to get a sense of where countries are in their 5G journey. While the framework in this paper focuses on comparing nations on 5G maturity, the model can also be used to compare 5G maturity amongst the operators. The 5G Maturity Model is a living framework that can be updated and adapted on a regular basis as more data becomes available to get a sense of global 5G competitiveness at any given point in time.

The purpose of this paper is to provide an update on the 5G progress around the world through the lens of the 5G Maturity Model using the variables that are important to the analysis. This model can not only provide adequate measurement insights but also give guidance to governments, operators, and the ecosystem as to where they stand relative to their peers. Given that we are still early into the cycle, many of the variables don’t have adequate data, some can’t be reliably measured (in such cases we must rely on our subjective assessments), and we might be missing some variables because we don’t completely understand how 5G will shape the global economy. The goal of this exercise is to continue to provide a living model that can be adjusted on an ongoing basis and provide accurate input to strategists and policy makers around the world.


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