Europe and U.S. to delay 5G deployments; China to accelerate 5G

Up until the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world hard in late February, 5G seemed a priority for most wireless network operators. Now, with across the board cutbacks everywhere, it will be much further down the must do list for 2020.

In the absence of any new 5G applications or completion of 3GPP 5G Phase 2 and ITU-R IMT 2020, 5G was not expected to ramp this year, despite ridiculous hype and false claims (especially ultra low latency which has not yet been specified let alone standardized yet).

Now the new technology faces an unprecedented slow down to launch and expand pilot deployments.  Why? It’s because of the stay at home/shelter in place orders all over the world.  Non essential business’ are closed and manufacturing plants have been idled.  Also, why do you need a mobile network if you’re at home 95% of the time?

One reason to deploy 5G is to off load data (especially video) traffic on congested 4G-LTE  networks. But just like the physical roads and highways, those 4G networks have experienced less traffic since the virus took hold.  People confined to their homes need wired broadband and Wi-Fi, NOT 4G and 5G mobile access.

“5G deployment in Europe will certainly be delayed,” said Eric Xu, one of Huawei’s rotating CEOs, during a Huawei (private company) results presentation today.  Xu also told reporters the delays could last until “the time when the pandemic is brought under control.”

Eric Xu said the current crisis would “certainly” delay 5G rollouts

Huawei’s Eric Xu said the current crisis would “certainly” delay 5G rollouts


Answering questions about its annual report, published on Tuesday, Huawei vice-president Victor Zhang said there would “definitely” be an impact but it would likely be worse in Europe than in the UK.

A few data points from European telcos in the aftermath of COVID-19:

  • On March 20, the UK’s BT reported a 5% drop in mobile data traffic, compared with normal levels.
  • Today, Belgian incumbent Proximus said capital expenditure would go down this year to offset the impact of COVID-19 on profits.
  • A growing number of European countries are delaying 5G spectrum auctions, as restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic make it difficult to maintain planning. The EU’s deadline of June for the release of the 700 MHz band for 5G will be missed by several countries, including Spain and Austria.
  • In Portugal, MEO, NOS and Vodafone Portugal now face a further wait for frequency rights in the 700MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2.1GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.6GHz bands
  • German company United Internet’s CEO, Ralph Dommermuth, said that the construction of subsidiary 1&1 Drillisch’s 5G network would experience delays due to current measures adopted in the country to prevent a further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany, local paper Handelsblatt reported.
  • In Sweden, which has controversially avoided a total lockdown, telecom incumbent carrier Telia has now cut dividends as it prepares for a hit.

Huawei’s statements imply the U.S. will also face a delay in 5G rollouts.  It has overtaken Italy as the country with the highest number of coronavirus infections, and its response to the outbreak has been lackluster and confusing at best, horrendous at worst.

As a mobile-only network equipment vendor, Ericsson looks the most exposed to a 5G slow down.  More than 50% of its business is generated in Europe and the Americas, where the rate of COVID-19 infections is rising.

Although less reliant on the 5G wireless base station business than Ericsson, Nokia could also be in trouble due to the slowdown in 5G deployments.  Approximately 30% of its sales came from North America last year, and another 28% from Europe.


“After the pandemic was brought under control, China has accelerated its 5G deployments,” according to Huawei’s Xu.

China has accelerated its own 5G deployment after the number of cases of Covid-19 subsided, according to Xu, but in other countries, it would depend “on several factors”, including whether telecoms companies had the budget and resources to “win back the time” lost.

Indeed, China Mobile this week awarded 5G contracts worth $5.2 billion with approximately 90% of the contracts going to Huawei and ZTE. Ericsson won contracts worth RMB4.2 billion ($593 million) and small local vendor CICT will net RMB965 million ($136 million). Nokia reportedly bid, but failed to win any of the contracts from China Mobile.

This centralized procurement involves 28 China provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government. According to C114, the total demand is 232,143 5G base stations.  At the end of February, the number of 5G base stations owned China Mobile has exceeded 80,000.



9 April 2020 Update:

5G is looking like a casualty of COVID-19

All 5G companies had accomplished was the design of a technology that provides faster connections and additional capacity on smartphone networks. A few have already been launched, and South Korea, the most advanced market, already has millions of subscribers. Yet local news reports suggest many have been underwhelmed by the 5G experience. For service providers, it has had minimal impact on sales while marketing and rollout costs have made a huge dent in profits.

This will discourage 5G investment in countries under COVID-19 lockdown. As customers downgrade to cheaper services and dump TV sports packages rerunning last year’s highlights, many operators will cut spending. Concerned about exposing field workers to unnecessary health risks, they will prioritize the maintenance of networks already used by the majority. Moreover, people confined to their broadband-equipped homes for most of the day have little use for mobile data networks. Any additional investment is likely to go into fiber-optic equipment.

5G launches will also be delayed in European markets that have postponed auctions of the spectrum needed to support services. Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Portugal and Spain are all now reported to have delayed auctions. Without spectrum, 5G will obviously not fly.

Fear mongering stories linking 5G to illness could also hinder rollout. Countries such as Belgium and Switzerland have imposed limits on the use of 5G antennas amid lingering concern that radiofrequency emissions are carcinogenic. The World Health Organization says mobile frequencies are too low to be dangerous, but activists are unconvinced.

In the UK, operators now have to contend with the ludicrous suggestion that 5G networks transmit COVID-19. After misinformed tweets by celebrities including Amanda Holden, a British actress and reality-TV regular, 5G masts were burnt in the cities of Belfast, Birmingham and Liverpool.

China, meanwhile, remains determined to erect more than half a million 5G base stations by the end of this year. Claiming to have beaten COVID-19, it has lifted restrictions on the movement of people and reopened its factories. For the equipment makers building those 5G networks, this investment program could be essential medicine. Just last month, China Mobile, the country’s largest operator, awarded 5G contracts worth $5.2 billion. Unfortunately, with almost 90% of the work going to domestic suppliers Huawei and ZTE, Western vendors will not be able to count on China for a boost.





11 thoughts on “Europe and U.S. to delay 5G deployments; China to accelerate 5G

  1. Pay attention to these scientists and their warnings, especially since some of the coronavirus hotspots were also 5G hotspots, like Wuhan, Milan and New York City (and none happened in Sweden, where the 5G roll-out has been wisely delayed). GGK, MD

    Duty to Warn: Scientists Warn of Serious Health Effects of 5G

    By Rainer Nyberg, EdD and Lennart Hardell, MD, PhD – September 13, 2017 (1417 words)

  2. I think we may see some slowdown in 5G deployments, due primarily to downward economic pressures. On the other hand, with millions sheltering-in-place during the pandemic response, we’re seeing a massive uptick in demand for added capacity/performance coverage. Some proposed solutions are built around temporary LTE sites feeding hotspots, but LTE can only support a few hundred connections per radio – in some cases, we need thousands and tens of thousands. If the pandemic response is going to last 12+ months (per the Imperial College UK report, and leaked US analyses) we will have to cover more people with fewer sites – and 5G may be the solution both in terms of bits/sec/Hz (~20% improvement in mid-band, and >50% improvement in millimeter wave band), but also in terms of simultaneous user capacity per radio. Clients are of course the issue; right now there are few 5G devices, and with China still thawing out from their own pandemic-driven factory freeze it will be some time before 5G devices are available. But if the arc of this pandemic response is 12+ months, there are a lot of school-age children who would benefit from 5G hotspots coming to market in mid/late-2020 – and they’ll need networks to make that happen.

  3. Good points David, so I think there is more need for 5G type deployment to make the network more adaptive, resilient, scalable (e.g., SDN/NFV) and be able to support more bandwidth (e.g., NR) and various types of real-time applications (e.g., Edge Cloud) now more than before. It would be good to see network usage and spike in types of applications around the world during this lock down to get an idea. That may help the operators to architect their networks accordingly.

  4. There have been articles with early data on network traffic loads and shifts during the pandemic shelter-in-place. The issue is that these data sets do not show the LACK of usage from people stuck in their homes without broadband.

  5. Very informative article. The facts present themselves very clearly. The Covid-19 produced business shutdowns and stay at home orders will 5G delay deployments even longer than earlier 5g rollout plans.

    IMHO, 5G deployment is dangerous at this point in time, as human’s involved in 5G cell site/tower construction and build-outs (e.g. mounting small cells on poles) could unknowingly spread the virus and thereby exacerbate this illness even more than the incredible damage it has been done already to global economies and the world population.

  6. April 6, 2020: Covid-19 shutdown is wreaking havoc on 5G deployments

    Critical Covid-19 measures are putting strains on local governments and that in turn is causing delays in 5G infrastructure permits.

    Wireless operators and infrastructure companies need local governments to approve new cell sites that are needed to strengthen their 4G networks and to deploy 5G. Because 5G is a higher speed network that offers more bandwidth and lower latency, it requires more cell sites than previous generations of wireless networking technology. In addition, some wireless operators are using high-band millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum for 5G. In higher spectrum bands the wireless signal will only travel shorter distances and that means more cell sites are required to provide consistent wireless coverage.

    The Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) is working with municipalities to try to accelerate these cell site permits. However, most municipalities consider the issuing of these permits as a non-essential activity.

    “It’s a mixed bag,” said Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the WIA. “In many cases city halls are closed but we are seeing heroic efforts to get [cell site permits] moved through the system.”

    Adelstein said that the WIA is working directly with a number of municipal representatives to figure out how they can get permits approved despite the shutdown. Many of these municipal representatives are part of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) that was established by the FCC in 2017 to make recommendations to the commission on ways to accelerate broadband deployments and remove any obstacles. According to Alex Gellman, CEO of Vertical Bridge, a privately held tower and cell site owner and manager, this group has proven to be very valuable in this current crisis. “They are trying to share best practices,” he said.

    According to Adelstein, WIA and its members are emphasizing that permitting is necessary to meet the increasing wireless capacity demands and make sure all networks continue to perform. “So far the networks are keeping up,” Adelstein said. “But we have capacity demands on the networks that we are trying to address.”

    Wireless operators are also feeling the pinch from these permitting delays. T-Mobile’s new CEO Mike Sievert hinted at possible cell site permitting problems because of the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders in an interview with CNBC after it was announced that T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint was finally complete. “This crisis might affect permitting,” he said. “Governments and localities are operating at less-than-capacity.”

    The current shutdown of municipal offices around the U.S. is particularly challenging because many local governments still rely on signed documents and embossed engineering drawings for permit approvals. “That’s where the slowdown occurs,” said Gellman.

    Plus, many cities require permits to be discussed in open meetings, which currently aren’t occurring. Some municipalities do not have electronic filing available and not all city officials have statutory authority to approve permits remotely.

    However, Adelstein said that most cities are responding positively and are willing to work with the WIA to try to find solutions. The WIA and its members are also trying to help municipalities by offering free legal work or other resources to help them work through these challenges. In the meantime, the WIA is working on a document that outlines different ways communities can overcome some of these obstacles and get cell site permits approved.

    Some examples include holding zoning hearings via video conferencing or accepting scans or photos of engineering drawings until city offices are open to receive embossed and certified copies of the plans.

    Inspections are an issue too

    But it’s not just the cell site permits that are in jeopardy; inspections are also being delayed. Gellman said that before a tower company can turn on a site it has to be inspected. “We are looking at some kind of time frame where there is adjusted protocol in place,” Gellman said. For example, tower companies might be able to turn on a site now but that site is subject to inspection at a future date and if it fails, the company must bring it up to code as quickly as possible.

    Adelstein even suggested there might be virtual inspections using a remote terminal (or even a drone) that can take place now in lieu of on-site inspections. “There are practical workarounds for these roadblocks,” he said.

    For now, WIA and others are encouraged by the dialog they are having with various representatives from municipalities and they hope that these conversations will help keep 5G deployments from being completely derailed by Covid-19.

  7. What no one is talking about is that unlicensed 5G in Europe is using 60 Ghz frequency (reference:
    That frequency is precisely where oxygen absorption is highest.
    (See this chart:

    This means that the oxygen in the atmosphere where 5G – 60 GHz is used gets super-charged with radiation. The electrons in the oxygen molecules spin too fast to be absorbed by the lungs, which means people (and other creatures) are deprived of the oxygen they need to breathe.

    The wireless telecom industry likes 60 Ghz because the oxygen absorption rate means there won’t be a lot of microwaves from different companies that are overshooting and interfering with each other. But there are more important things on Earth than whether technology is experiencing interference. Life is more important than that!

    We must not accept this technology. It is dangerous to life.

    1. Rebuttal Comment:

      1. There are no licensed 5G 60 GHz networks deployed at this time
      2. 60 GHz has not been added to ITU Recommendation M.1036 which lists all frequencies that may be used by IMT (2000, Advanced, 2020, etc):!!PDF-E.pdf Regulators all over the world use that recommendation to select frequencies for cellular service in their respective countries.
      3. In November 2019, WRC 19 approved the use of 66-71 GHz for the deployment of 5G networks so that frequency range will soon be added to ITU M.1036 in its next (7th) revision.
      4. Here are references stating that 60 GHz radiation is NOT harmful:

      “It was shown that millimeter-wave radiation at 60.42 GHz and with a maximum incident power density of 1 mW/cm2 does not alter cell viability, gene expression, and protein conformation.” from the Abstract of last reference

      “In conclusion, our results indicate that exposure to low-power radiations around 60 GHz does not cause any significant effect.” from Conclusion of last reference

    2. Ofcom publishes technical data debunking 5G links to Covid-19

      Reacting to the persistent attacks on mobile infrastructure by arsonists mistakenly thinking that a link exists between 5G networks and coronavirus – backed by unfounded statements by celebrities – UK telecoms and broadcast regulator Ofcom has published test results showing that UK 5G continues to operate well within internationally accepted safety levels.

      The release of the technical data is the latest response by the telecoms and scientific community to respond to the arson attacks, after reports first appeared on social media suggesting links between 5G networks and the coronavirus.

      There then followed proclamations by a number of UK celebrities – including a well-known talent show judge, a former boxing world champion and a former sports commentator who is more famous for professing a global conspiracy involving “lizard people” – amplifying the unfounded social media rumours.

      Flying in the face of Ofcom officially sanctioning a UK community radio station after it broadcast a discussion that contained potentially harmful views on Covid-19, fuel was added to the fire by long-time UK daytime TV host Eamonn Holmes, who on 13 April made an angry retort to a fellow presenter who was debunking the myths on ITV’s This Morning. Holmes went as far as accusing the UK media of having a “state narrative” on the issue.

      The day after, Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery reported an arson attack on mobile masts providing connectivity to the NHS Nightingale hospital in Birmingham, a dedicated facility treating victims of the coronavirus.

      The Holmes furore prompted Ofcom to reveal that it was assessing Holmes’s comments “as a priority”, and came just as it published research showing that almost half of UK online adults had come across false or misleading information about the coronavirus in the previous week.

      Up-front and central in publishing its new test data, Ofcom states very clearly that claims 5G is connected to the spread of the coronavirus are just plain wrong and part of a conspiracy theory. It added that there is no scientific evidence to support the conspiracy theories linking the coronavirus to 5G – conspiracy theories that are putting lives at risk.

      Read more about 5G and Covid-19
      WHO publishes myth-buster guide to Covid-19 as Ofcom investigates remarks made on leading ITV programme casting doubt on media proof of fake news.
      Omdia is the latest analyst firm to lower its projections for 5G smartphone shipments because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The firm expects 20% fewer phones in 2020.
      Screeching halt to telecoms money truck predicted for 2020 as Covid-19 outbreak impacts phone production and 5G roll-out.
      Following the launch of 5G in the UK in 2019, Ofcom published the results of electromagnetic field (EMF) measurements at 16 UK sites in February 2020. It has continued to test since then, and has now published an updated measurement report, which looks at 22 5G sites in 10 UK cities.

      At every site, Ofcom found that emissions were a small fraction of the levels included in international guidelines. These guidelines are set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which in March 2020 published details of a seven-year research programme that found 5G technologies were not harmful if new guidelines and standards were adhered to.

      The maximum that Ofcom measured at any mobile site was approximately 1.5% of those levels – including signals from other mobile technologies such as 3G and 4G. The highest level from 5G signals specifically was 0.039% of the maximum set out in the international guidelines.

      As it continues to deal with the issue, assessing breaches of broadcast regulations, Ofcom said it would continue to regularly publish data from its measurement programme, including at further 5G sites.

  8. I’ve carefully considered everything you wrote here and I think this post is on point. My concern is that China will leapfrog the US and Europe in deploying 5G which their government is subsidizing in many ways.

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