5G Maturity Model: An Update on Global 5G Progress

The 5G cycle kicked off in earnest in Q2 2019 with South Korean operators launching their respective networks and introduced new 5G handsets. Around the same time, the US market started showing some activity in 5G network deployment though the signal to noise ratio was quite high. China kicked off its 5G domination campaign in Q4 2019 and has really caught momentum in the first half of 2020. Other nations like Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, etc. started launching their respective networks though often times without any subscribers. Regardless, we have had over 18 months of data on spectrum auction/availability, network deployments in various frequency bands, device launches (primarily Android handsets), and new enterprise use cases.

As the number of 5G subscribers started to rise, so did the noise around the “5G Race.” Just like the urban legend of blind men and the elephant, 5G Race has been defined by whatever metrics seem favorable to the arguing party. 5G is indeed disruptive and it will for sure lead to innovation breakthroughs in applied software engineering and business models. But we needed some sensible way of talking about competition and policy making when it comes to 5G. That is why 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. For e.g. if 5G Race is measured by the number of base stations, China has already won or if it measured by % penetration, some of the smaller countries like Korea or Finland will be way ahead of everyone.

Each of these variables provide 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 first of its kind 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 fairly 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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