Ericsson on 5G use cases: remote surgery, augmented and virtual reality with AI agent all depend on 3GPP URLLC specs

5G for Remote Surgery:

This year, surgeons in Florida working with Ericsson, were able to operate on remote patients in Dubai and Shanghai, using 5G technology, according to Mischa Dohler, Ericsson vice president-emerging technologies.

A hospital in China used a 5G-enabled robot to perform spinal surgery on patients, and doctors used VR headsets to livestream the operation. The robot implanted over 62 pedicle screws in the patients’ spinal cord.  Here’s a pic of that:

Photo by Wang Fei/For China Daily

Dohler said he’s working with the White House, FCC, NTIA, Food and Drug Administration and others to make remote surgery “a reality.” More widespread use of the technology won’t happen unless smaller carriers also get involved. We will have not only humans using your networks, but also machines more and more,” Dohler added.

Gartner’s market research underscores the importance of 5G SA, predicting that by 2025, it will be the foundation for the majority of applications demanding sub-10 millisecond latency. This transition is not merely a technical upgrade but a strategic enabler for industries poised to benefit from real-time data processing and decision-making.  However, the ultra low latency depends on two 3GPP Release 16 specs – 5GNR enhancements for URLLC and URLLC in the 5G SA core network– being completed, performance tested and implemented.  That has not happened yet and without it there can’t be any 5G URLLC use cases like remote surgery!

Real-time remote surgeries, once a concept of futuristic medicine, are becoming a reality. The ability to perform surgical procedures from thousands of miles away, with real-time response and precision, could revolutionize healthcare accessibility and outcomes. For example, a pilot project involving 5G SA-enabled remote surgery successfully demonstrated how surgeons could operate with millisecond-level precision, mitigating geographical barriers to specialized medical care.


Ericsson’s Dohler predicted growing use of augmented and virtual reality and AI “agents,” computer programs capable of performing tasks autonomously, which people will use as part of their daily lives. New technology will require networks that can handle increased traffic, he said. New data traffic patterns “will hit you at some point this decade,” he said. “You will need to do some bold moves.”




5G Americas/Omdia: 2023 global 5G connections reach 1.76 billion

5G connections accelerated in 2023, reaching 1.76 billion globally by end-December, following the addition of 700 million connections in the 12-month period, according to a report from 5G Americas, with data provided by Omdia.

Of course, most of those connections were 5G NSA, which does not offer any 3GPP defined 5G features (including 5G Security and Network Slicing).  According to a Dell’Oro Group report, 12 new 5G SA core networks were deployed in 2023, down from 18 in 2022. The report also notes that AT&T, Verizon, British Telecom EE, Deutsche Telekom, and other Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) did not deploy 5G SA networks in 2023.

Chris Pearson, President of 5G Americas, said, “The wireless telecommunications industry stands at the cusp of a new era, driven by innovation, collaboration, and a shared vision for a connected future. With Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) continuing to drive consumer broadband demand, new technology milestones are advancing unparalleled connectivity experiences worldwide.”

North America emerged as a leader in 5G adoption, with connections in the region comprising 29% of all North American connections by the end of 2023. Notably, the region experienced a staggering 64% year-over-year growth in 5G connections, adding 77 million new connections to its network. By the end of 2023, North American 5G connections totaled 197 million.

–>This author believes that most of the new 5G connections in the U.S. were FWA from Verizon and T-Mobile.


Latin America also witnessed substantial progress in both 4G LTE and 5G connections, with LTE connections reaching 582 million by the close of 2023, adding 40 million new connections year over year. Moreover, the region embraced the 5G revolution, with 39 million 5G connections established by year-end, setting the stage for further expansion in the years to come.

“4G LTE is still the strongest technology across the region,” said Jose Otero, Vice President of Latin America, and the Caribbean for 5G Americas. “Although various factors, including 5G handset mass market availability and completion of spectrum auctions will see an increase in 5G coverage, and subscriber growth in the coming year.”

Looking ahead, Omdia forecasts paint a picture of the telecommunications landscape we can expect to see throughout this decade. Global 5G connections are projected to skyrocket to 7.9 billion by 2028, with North America forecasted to boast an impressive 700 million 5G connections by the same year.

Omdia principal analyst Kristin Paulin points out, “With this forecast, 5G will reach the global milestone of accounting for more than half of all connections by 2028. For North America, as an early leader, 5G will be more than 80% of connections.”

Additionally, 5G data traffic is expected to be 76% of all technology data traffic as it reaches a staggering 2.6 billion TB (or 2600 EB), with all technology data traffic reaching 3.4 billion TB (or 3400 EB) by 2028, reflecting the exponential growth trajectory of 5G connectivity.

While 5G technology continues to dominate headlines, the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem remains a vital component of the digital revolution. Currently, global IoT subscriptions stand at 3.1 billion, complemented by 6.6 billion smartphone subscriptions. Forecasts suggest that IoT subscriptions will reach 4.5 billion, while smartphone subscriptions will surge to 7.4 billion by 2026, highlighting the evolving nature of connectivity and the interconnectedness of our digital world.

Globally, the number of deployed 5G networks shows strength compared to 4G LTE deployments, and in the case of North America almost matches 4G LTE networks deployed. Currently, there are 314 commercial 5G networks worldwide, and this number is anticipated to grow to 450 by 2025, reflecting significant investments in 5G infrastructure worldwide.

The number of 5G and 4G LTE network deployments as of March 18, 2024, are summarized below:


  • Global: 314
  • North America: 17
  • Latin America and Caribbean: 39


  • Global: 714
  • North America: 18
  • Latin America and Caribbean: 135

Visit for more information, statistical charts, and a list of LTE and 5G deployments by operator and region. Subscriber and forecast data is provided by Omdia and deployment data by 5G Americas and TeleGeography (GlobalComm).

About 5G Americas: The Voice of 5G and Beyond for the Americas

5G Americas is an industry trade organization composed of leading telecommunications service providers and manufacturers.

The organization’s mission is to facilitate and advocate for the advancement of 5G and beyond toward 6G throughout the Americas. 5G Americas is invested in developing a connected wireless community while leading 5G development for all the Americas. 5G Americas is headquartered in Bellevue, Washington. More information is available at 5G Americas’ website.

5G Americas’ Board of Governors Members include Airspan Networks Inc., Antel, AT&T, Ciena, Cisco, Crown Castle, Ericsson, Liberty Latin America, Mavenir, Nokia, Qualcomm Incorporated, Rogers Communications, Samsung, T-Mobile US, Inc., Telefónica, and WOM.




Where Have You Gone 5G? Midband spectrum, FWA, 2024 decline in CAPEX and RAN revenue

GSMA Intelligence: 5G connections to double over the next two years; 30 countries to launch 5G in 2023

Bundenetzagentur: 5G was 28.5% of broadband speed measurements in Germany (Oct 2022 thru Sept 2023)

Global 5G Market Snapshot; Dell’Oro and GSA Updates on 5G SA networks and devices

MIIT: China’s Big 3 telcos add 24.82M 5G “package subscribers” in December 2023




Global 5G Market Snapshot; Dell’Oro and GSA Updates on 5G SA networks and devices

According to market research firm Omdia, there were 1.8 billion global 5G subscribers at the end of 2023 with 7.9 billion forecast by 2028. This growth trajectory, while substantial, is subject to various influencing factors such as infrastructure development, spectrum availability, device availability, and consumer demand.  Kristin Paulin, Principal Analyst at Omdia, has a cautiously optimistic outlook for 5G. She emphasizes that innovation and cooperation are key to unlocking the full potential of 5G and its transformative impact.

Globally, the number of deployed 5G networks is now comparable to 4G LTE deployments. There are currently 296 commercial 5G networks worldwide, a number expected to grow to 438 by 2025.

In North America, 5G deployment was at 176 million connections as of the third quarter of 2023, a 14% increase from the previous quarter. This represents a 26% market share and a 46% penetration rate.  However, there were only two U.S. 5G SA network providers – T-Mobile US and Dish Wireless– as of the end of 2023.

in contrast, Latin America and the Caribbean are still in the early stages of 5G adoption. However, the region shows promise with an expected quadrupling of 5G connections in 2023, reaching 46 million. By 2028, it is anticipated that the region will have 492 million 5G connections.

Jose Otero, Vice President of Caribbean and Latin America for 5G Americas, acknowledges the significance of 4G LTE and 5G as vital mobile communication technologies in Latin America. He anticipates more robust opportunities for 5G in the region, driven by upcoming spectrum auctions and wider access to 5G devices in 2024.

“The global 5G landscape shows positive momentum as innovation and collaboration continue to be the mainstays for long term progress.” said Chris Pearson, President of 5G Americas. “With the World Radio Conference wrapping up, it is important that international co-operation and efforts continue to ensure that spectrum and technology standards continue to propel this growth.”


According to a recent report by Dell’Oro Group,  the Mobile Core Network (MCN) market growth rate has been reduced to less than a 1% CAGR (2023-2028).

“This is the fourth consecutive time we reduced the growth rate of the MCN market as the build-out of 5G Standalone (5G SA) networks continues to wane compared to 5G Non-standalone (5G NSA) networks,” said Dave Bolan, Research Director at Dell’Oro Group. “The buildout of 5G SA networks is going slower than anticipated which is restraining growth in the marketplace. To date, we count fifty 5G SA eMBB (enhanced Mobile BroadBand) networks that have been commercially deployed worldwide by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). We counted 18 new 5G SA networks in 2022, but only 12 were launched in 2023. On a positive note, we believe a lot of work has been done in the background, preparing for 5G SA launches by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and we expect 2024 to have more launches than 2022.”

Note 1.  Importantly, a 5G SA core network is required to realize 3GPP defined 5G features, like 5G Security, Network Slicing (3GPP’s technical specification (TS) 23.501 defines 5G system architecture with slicing included. TS 22.261 specifies the provisioning of network slices, association of devices to slices, and performance isolation during normal and elastic slice operation).

The 5G SA core network relies on a “Service-Based Architecture” (SBA) framework, where the architecture elements are defined in terms of “Network Functions” (NFs) rather than by “traditional” Network Entities.

5G SA core networks require “cloud-native” hardware and software that has a service-based architecture and decentralized functions. A “cloud-native” 5G core allows for flexible and efficient operation, as well as the effective adoption of new services. 


According to Verified Market Research, when the full 5G SA feature set is supported, enterprises can realize the following benefits:

  • Further improvements to speed and reach, beyond what 5G NSA brings.
  • Support for higher-density deployments of devices.
  • Support for low-latency and real-time use cases.
  • Support for enhanced enterprise site connectivity via network slicing.
  • Better security than 5G NSA (which uses 4G LTE security methods and procedures).
  • Simplification of the RAN and core compared to 5G NSA since 5G SA supports only 5G and leaves 4G and older standards behind — and even though the 5G SA core alone is more complex than a pure 4G core alone.

GSA claims that more than 121 network operators in 55 countries and territories have invested in public 5G standalone (SA) networks (but they don’t disclose how many of those have been commercially deployed (for example, AT&T and Verizon have been talking up 5G SA for years, but have yet to deploy it!).  We trust Dell’Oro’s number of 5G SA eMBB networks deployed.

Findings from the latest GSA update on the 5G SA ecosystem/devices [2.] include:

  • There are 2,130 announced devices with claimed support for 5G SA, up 35.7% from 1,569 at the end of 2022.
  • Devices with support for 5G SA account for 90.3% of all 5G devices, as of the end of 2023, up from 35.6% in December 2019.
  • 93 modems or mobile processors/platform chipsets state support for 5G SA, 90 of which are understood to be commercially available.

Note 2.  It’s crucially important to realize that since all 5G SA core networks are different, a 5G SA device that works on one carrier’s network won’t work on any other without a new 5G SA download.

By the end of December 2023, GSA had identified:

• 28 announced form factors • 261 manufacturers with announced available or forthcoming 5G devices

• 2,358 announced devices, including regional variants, but excluding operator-branded devices that are essentially rebadged versions of other phones. Of these, at least 1,964 are understood to be commercially available:

• 1,255 phones, up 34 from November 2023. At least 1,168 of these are now commercially available, up 56 from November 2023

• 308 fixed wireless access customer-premises equipment (CPE) devices for indoor and outdoor uses, at least 209 of which are now commercially available

• 243 modules • 64 tablets • 33 laptops or notebooks • 77 battery-operated hot spots

• 179 industrial or enterprise routers, gateways or modems

• 13 in-vehicle routers, modems or hot spots

• 29 USB terminals, dongles or modems

• 168 other devices, including drones, head-mounted displays, robots, TVs, cameras, femtocells/small cells, repeaters, vehicle on-board units, keypads, a snap-on dongle/adapter, a switch, a vending machine and an encoder

• 1,098 announced devices with declared support for standalone 5G in sub-6 GHz bands, 904 of which are commercially available.

According to Verified Market Research, the market drivers for the 5G Technology Market can be influenced by various factors. These may include:

  • Enhanced Data Speed and Capacity: In comparison to its predecessors (4G/LTE), 5G technology offers far faster data rates and more network capacity. Supporting the increasing need for high-bandwidth applications like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and Internet of Things (IoT) devices is imperative.
  • Low Latency: The goal of 5G networks is to offer low-latency communication, which shortens the time it takes to send and receive data. This is critical for real-time interactive applications like industrial automation, remote surgery, and driverless cars.
  • Growing Need for IoT Devices: One of the main factors driving 5G adoption is the spread of IoT devices across a number of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, smart cities, and agriculture. 5G is ideally suited for Internet of Things applications due to its low latency and capacity to connect a large number of devices concurrently.
  • Rise of Edge Computing: The growth of edge computing is intimately related to 5G networks. Edge computing improves speed and lowers latency by bringing computing resources closer to end users and devices; this makes it a crucial enabler for applications like driverless cars and smart cities.
  • Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing: By facilitating effective and dependable communication in smart factories, 5G is anticipated to play a significant role in the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. It makes it easier to incorporate technology like automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence into production processes.
  • Telecommunications Infrastructure Upgrade: on order to roll out 5G networks, telecommunications service providers are actively spending on infrastructure upgrades. To improve capacity and coverage, new base stations and tiny cells must be installed.
  • Government Initiatives and Support: Through legislative frameworks, financial aid, and other means, numerous governments across the globe are actively promoting the rollout of 5G technology. In the global digital landscape, these programmes seek to promote innovation, economic growth, and competitiveness.
  • Competitive Environment and Industry Cooperation: Businesses are investing in 5G technology to obtain a competitive advantage due to the highly competitive nature of the telecommunications sector. Furthermore, partnerships between IT firms, telecom service providers, and other relevant parties are quickening the creation and implementation of 5G networks.

Several factors can act as restraints or challenges for the 5G Technology Market. These may include:

  • Infrastructure Costs: Given that a large-scale deployment of base stations and small cells is necessary to support 5G, telecom operators may be discouraged by the substantial upfront expenditure necessary for creating and upgrading infrastructure.
  • Spectrum Allocation and Availability: The effective operation of 5G networks depends on the allocation and availability of appropriate spectrum bands. Regulatory and geopolitical obstacles can make it difficult to get the necessary spectrum, which can hinder the deployment of 5G services.
  • Security Concerns: There are worries about possible cybersecurity attacks due to the vast number of devices connected to 5G networks and the increased connection. Building confidence and promoting wider adoption require overcoming these issues and guaranteeing the security of network infrastructure.
  • Interoperability Problems: There are interoperability problems since different generations of cellular technologies coexist. A seamless transition and the prevention of service interruptions depend on the seamless integration of various technologies.
  • Regulatory Obstacles: The implementation of 5G networks faces a number of regulatory obstacles, such as spectrum auctions, licence requirements, and local law compliance. Uncertainties surrounding regulations may cause hold-ups and impede the rapid deployment of 5G services.
  • Public Health and Safety Concerns: The general public’s reception of 5G networks may be impacted by worries about the possible health impacts of increasing exposure to radiofrequency radiation. Building public trust requires resolving these issues and maintaining clear lines of communication.
  • Absence of Killer Applications: The deployment of 5G may be slowed back by the absence of compelling and widely applicable use cases. Creating cutting-edge, impactful apps that take advantage of 5G’s special features is essential to increasing demand.
  • Global Economic uncertainty: Businesses’ and operators’ willingness to invest in the rollout of 5G technology can be impacted by economic downturns and uncertainty. Delays in infrastructure upgrades could result from financial considerations and budgetary restrictions.

Charts courtesy of Verified Market Research



5G Continues Robust Momentum Growth and Drives Demand for More Wireless Spectrum

Global 5G Technology Market Size By Communication Infrastructure, By Core Network Technology, By End-Use Industries, By Geographic Scope And Forecast

5G-Standalone January 2024 Summary


Ericsson Mobility Report touts “5G SA opportunities”

State of 5G SA:

“It’s been exciting to see the industry evolve in the last decade or so, and see first-hand the massive growth of 4G and the arrival of 5G,” said Fredrik Jejdling Executive Vice President and Head of Business Area Networks and Publisher of Ericsson Mobility Report.

The latest edition of Ericsson’s Mobility Report opens with the assertion that “5G standalone brings new opportunities,” which sounds promising, but there’s nothing in the report which shows what those opportunities are.

Ericsson says that 40 service providers have deployed or launched 5G SA in public networks, which agrees with Analysys Mason’s findings.  To put that in context, around 280 service providers globally have launched commercial 5G with the overwhelming being 5G NSA.

Dell’Oro counted just seven 5G SA launches to date in 2023, while the GSA – which worked with Ericsson on the stats for its Mobility Report – shared data that also showed little growth in 5G SA this year.


Other Highlights of the Report:
  • 1. 6 bn Global 5G mobile subscriptions are projected to reach 1.6 billion by the end of 2023.
  • 30% 5G mid-band population coverage outside mainland China has increased from 10 percent in 2022 to around 30 percent at the end of 2023.
  • 56 GB Global mobile data traffic consumption per smartphone is expected to reach 56 GB per month at the end of 2029.

Ericsson predicts that there will be 1.6 billion 5G subs in the world by the end of this year, or 18% of all mobile subscriptions, driven by North America, where 5G penetration will reach 61%. As recently as June, the network equipment vendor forecast that the year-end 5G total would hit 1.5 billion, so clearly the market is increasing faster than expected. In the third quarter there were 163 million 5G subscriber additions taking the total to 1.4 billion by the end of September. As such, the year-end target look eminently achievable.

Ericsson puts total global 5G subscriptions at 5.3 billion by the end of 2029, by which date 5G network coverage should reach 85% of the population, up from 45% at the end of this year.

“With more than 600 million 5G subscriptions added globally this year, and rising in every region, it is evident that the demand for high performance connectivity is strong,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Executive Vice President and Head of Networks, at Ericsson. “The roll-out out of 5G continues and we see an increasing number of 5G standalone networks being deployed, bringing opportunities to support new and more demanding applications for both consumers and enterprises,” he added.


Analysys Mason: 40 operational 5G SA networks worldwide; Sub-Sahara Africa dominates new launches

GSA 5G SA Core Network Update Report

Dell’Oro: Mobile Core Network market has lowest growth rate since 4Q 2017


WSJ: Has 5G Lived Up to Expectations?

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested worldwide in 5G.  What was the return on that huge investment?  As we forecasted five years ago and ever since then, 5G hasn’t revolutionized whole swaths of the economy the way past mobile technologies did.


Opinion: Network operators and 5G vendors promised too much and under delivered.  3GPP and ITU-R WP 5D are partially to blame for the commercial failure of 5G.

In particular, URLLC- the key 5G use case- could not be realized because 3GPP Release 16 spec for Enhancements for URLLC in the RAN wasn’t complete and so could not be implemented.  Those enhancements were to enable URLLC end points to realize ITU-R M.2410 performance requirements, e.g. <1 ms latency in the data plane and <10 ms latency in the control plane.

Also, the 3GPP specs for 5G Architecture did not include implementation of 5G SA Core network, but instead provided many options.  Hence, there are many versions of 5G SA Core networks, with many major network operators, e.g. AT&T and Verizon, still using 5G NSA (with LTE infrastructure for everything but the RAN).

ITU-R M2150, the terrestrial 5G RIT/SRIT recommendation, did not meet the M.2410 URLLC performance requirements (due to absence of 3GPP Rel 16 URLLC in the RAN spec),  Also, it was not accompanied by the companion recommendation M.1036 issue 6 IMT Frequency Arrangements, which could not be agreed upon till a few months ago (it’s expected to be approved by ITU-R SG 5 meeting this November).  As a result, there were no standard frequencies for 5G. That resulted in a “frequency free for all” where administrations like the FCC chose frequencies for 5G that were not agreed upon at WRC’19 and assigned to ITU-R WP 5D to specify the frequency arrangements.

For sure, the U.S. wireless carriers offering 5G service have not had anywhere near a good ROI.  That’s indicative of the decline in their stock prices this year.  Despite an 8.67% dividend, Verizon (VZ) stock has lost -16.39% YTD through Friday Oct 13th. AT&T (T) stock has performed slightly worse with a -16.74% YTD total return.  The Dow Jones U.S. Telecommunications Index is -17.34% YTD through Friday.


In markets with widespread 5G, cellphone users often fail to notice a difference in service compared with 4G-LTE.  This author has had a 5G Samsung Galaxy phone for over one year and does not notice any difference from 4G-LTE.

A key growth opportunity for 5G—businesses installing private networks in places such as manufacturing plants and arenas—has yet to take off.

In the U.S., about 43% of people had 5G mobile subscriptions as of June, ranking 10th worldwide, according to estimates from research firm Omdia. Hong Kong had the world’s highest 5G penetration rate, with 74% of its population subscribed to the mobile service. Ranked second- and third-highest in the world were mainland China and South Korea, which registered 5G mobile-subscription rates of 60% and 59%, respectively.

The high uptake in China and its neighbors is no accident. Smartphone users in several Asian countries have benefited from affordable next-generation devices, strong fiber-optic infrastructure and government policies that encouraged broad 5G cellular coverage. China and South Korea also host technology giants like Huawei and Samsung that are spearheading the wireless technology’s advancement.

Finland had the highest 5G penetration rate in Europe, at 58%, while the United Arab Emirates led the Middle East, also with 58%.

Getting “4G for all, not 5G for few,” has been the mantra for the past two years at Veon, a network operator that serves cash-strapped markets from Ukraine to Bangladesh.

The Amsterdam-based company has already covered 90% of the six countries it serves with 4G signals. Some areas lack the fiber-optic-cable infrastructure to support 5G-capable cellphone towers, and roughly half of the population in those markets lacks even a smartphone, let alone one capable of picking up 5G connections. Some countries also impose high taxes on smartphones, which puts the devices out of reach for many consumers, says Veon Chief Executive Kaan Terzioğlu.

“This is really matching the needs of the markets with the technologies that are available,” Terzioğlu told the WSJ. Spending money on 5G infrastructure before the people it covers are ready to tap it “would be irresponsible,” he added.

Business owners and executives in many poorer countries say they wouldn’t plan around ultrafast wireless connections in places where 2010 technology is still the norm. “There’s not enough coverage or towers here,” says Nicholas Lutchmiah, retail manager at Topbet, a licensed gambling bookmaker and sports-betting company in South Africa, which has most of its shops in poorer townships and rural areas. “That’s the biggest problem that we face. In rural areas and townships, we get 3G, which is rather slow.”

Despite the limitations, some developing countries have invested heavily in 5G technology. Indian telecom companies have committed tens of billions of dollars to the latest network technology and making a push for ultracheap smartphones, for instance. Domestic conglomerate Reliance Industries  has led much of its country’s aggressive telecom investments through its Jio brand, the spearhead of leader Mukesh Ambani’s ambition “to connect everyone and everything, everywhere.”

The wireless companies that invested in 5G technology early paid handsomely to refresh their networks. and they have the balance sheets to prove it. The world’s biggest wireless companies—excluding China’s state-backed operators—carried $1.211 trillion of corporate debt at the end of 2022, up from $1.072 trillion four years earlier, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

The credit-rating service said that those companies spent more than in past years building up their wireless networks and issued more debt to finance big spectrum purchases. The price of that spectrum has varied but generally risen. One auction raised $19 billion in India while another group of licenses fetched $81 billion in the U.S.

Debt is nothing new to big telephone networks. The capital-intensive companies have historically run through cycles of heavy upfront spending on new equipment and installation before paying down the tab over time through reliable subscription fees; phone and internet service is a modern necessity, after all.

But securing airwaves for new 5G signals has forced companies to speed up their borrowing. “There’s a lot of debt on these companies,” Moody’s analyst Emile El Nems says. “We’re not ringing the alarm bells, but we’re saying there’s limited flexibility for an accident.”

Executives at telecom companies that borrowed the most to amass 5G-friendly spectrum licenses have said that they made prudent investments to meet customers’ demand for mobile bandwidth, and that their biggest spending is behind them, at least in the near term.

AT&T CEO John Stankey said at a recent investor conference that his company will end this year by paying down debt “first and foremost.”
Verizon’s finance chief said at another conference that trimming debt is “extremely important to us.”  The high cost of airwaves is also convincing some government policy makers to tweak their rules to ease the private-sector burden. Soaring demand for spectrum licenses in India prompted the government to take payments in installments so that companies wouldn’t need to rely too much on capital markets. Governments in Malaysia, Mexico and Israel have tried out different models that let private companies share or lease the airwaves they need, rather than paying large sums for exclusive rights.
China-American rivalry has loomed large through the 5G era, turning what was once a routine network-investment cycle into a geopolitical arms race. The Chinese and U.S. governments have each signaled their intent to control the future of 5G infrastructure not only in their home markets but around the world. Policy makers on both sides of the Pacific are hoping to reap the economic benefits that ultrafast cellular networks can offer their country’s private sector while controlling the technology used to build them.

China moved early to enhance its national infrastructure, blanketing the country with 5G base stations as soon as manufacturers started making them. The country’s three major mobile-phone carriers anchored those transmitters to a dense network of fiber-optic cables and encouraged a range of businesses from seaports to coal mines to use the ultrafast connections. It has also provided subsidies and regulatory support to telecom operators and tech companies, facilitating their growth and enabling them to compete on a global scale.

At the end of June, 5G base stations in the country connected 676 million 5G phones and more than 2.12 billion Internet of Things devices, China’s central-government officials said in a press conference in July.

U.S. officials offered their national cellphone carriers fewer direct subsidies than their Beijing counterparts, but policy makers granted many requests on the companies’ wish lists. Trump administration appointees fast-tracked auctions of 5G-capable wireless frequencies and consolidated the wireless sector by approving T-Mobile’s takeover of rival Sprint, a deal that the company and government leaders said would accelerate long-planned network upgrades.

At the same time, the U.S. has tried to persuade other countries to not buy Chinese gear—an effort that prompted some governments to ban its telecom equipment. But China’s homegrown supplier, Huawei, has weathered the U.S. efforts and played a pivotal role in both the domestic and global 5G markets. At the same time, they have turned away from Western suppliers like Qualcomm for some components and are now relying on domestic suppliers.

Huawei remains the world’s largest seller of telecom equipment, commanding about a third of the global market, with sales about twice those of the second- and third-ranked suppliers, Nokia and Ericsson, according to market-research firm Dell’Oro Group.

What happened to businesses being big 5G consumers?

One of 5G’s most alluring promises remains the private network: a system built to the same standard as a high-speed cellphone service but tailored for a business operating in a smaller area like an office, farm or factory. Those networks can connect a range of computers, sensors and robotics without the hassle and cost of hooking them up with wires.

For now, though, companies have been slow to adopt private networks. Consider “the factory of the future” that Ford and Vodafone previewed outside London in 2020. The companies detailed plans for a swarm of mobile robot welders receiving orders over superfast 5G connections, so they could assemble electric cars more quickly and precisely than traditional equipment.

Three years later, the factory of the future is still just a concept. Ford doesn’t use the high-tech wireless standard on its production line, and Vodafone says it ended its proof-of-concept project with the American automaker. A Ford spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In total, organizations have built more than 750 private cellular networks around the world, according to Besen Group, a private-network consultancy. Installations run the gamut from college campuses to open-pit mines, though many of them use less-advanced 4G gear instead of the latest-generation electronics.

That is partly because of a chicken-or-the-egg problem with private networks. A device maker might not want to create 5G gear for factories until more factories have installed cellular networks. But factory owners don’t want to invest in those networks unless there are enough 5G-ready devices on the market to justify the upgrade.

“This is actually fairly typical for new network equipment,” says Vodafone cloud and private-network chief Jenn Didoni. “The devices will certainly come, but there aren’t as many as in 4G, and they aren’t as tested and understood.”

Dell’Oro estimates that private networks make up less than 1% of the market for the relevant 5G equipment, but the research firm predicts that early revenue will grow, on average, at a 25% annual rate over the next five years as more connected gadgets hit the market.

“In the beginning, a lot of the conversations used to be about feasibility,” says Durga Malladi, a senior vice president at chip maker Qualcomm. “If I am interested in moving robots and overhead cranes using 5G, can I even get the same level of reliability and latency that I have expected from just wired? And the answer to that is, in almost all instances, absolutely yes.”

Many industries have yet to experience the market disruption that 5G’s boosters promised. A notable exception: Some telecom companies are enjoying a windfall from wireless bandwidth improvements at the expense of their cable-internet rivals.

Mobile network carriers like T-Mobile and Verizon have used new high-speed wireless equipment to beam internet service straight into customers’ homes, racking up more than five million new subscriptions altogether in under three years. The over-the-air service has dented cable-industry revenue and forced companies to compete in areas where they were once the only game in town.

Telecom companies have long known how to beam internet connections into people’s homes without the considerable expense of new wires and equipment. But wireless companies faced an uphill fight against their hard-wired competitors until 5G improvements brought advances such as more-efficient signals that could run through the same cell-tower antennas that companies were already installing to connect cellphones.

That helped mobile-network operators quickly rack up home-internet customers at much lower variable costs, especially in America, where cable companies’ dissatisfied customers offer a juicy target.

“The U.S. is very unusual because we pay so much for home broadband,” says Jeff Heynen, an analyst for Dell’Oro. “The way T-Mobile and Verizon are addressing the service, clearly you know who they’re going after.”

Markets with many far-flung customers, like Australia and Saudi Arabia, could soon follow the U.S. lead in 5G home-internet service, Heynen adds. Industry experts warn that the booming wireless-broadband business isn’t going to replace cable soon, however.

Capacity is the main factor holding back wireless internet services. A single cellular tower can only handle so many videogames, TV streams and Zoom calls at once, even after 5G upgrades offer those towers more bandwidth to go around.

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert has even played down his company’s booming home-internet business, telling investors at a Goldman Sachs conference in September that the service would eventually reach a customer base in the single-digit millions. That is a sliver of the more than 100 million U.S. households that could use broadband service.  “It’s a very mainstream offer, but we don’t think it’s going to take over cable and fiber,” Sievert said.


Ericsson: Global 5G subscriptions close to 1.3 billion in Q2-2023

According to Ericsson’s Mobility Report update, approximately 260 communications service providers (CSPs) have launched commercial 5G services. About 35 CSPs have launched 5G standalone (SA) networks. The Q2-2023 additions bring the global number of 5G subscriptions close to 1.3 billion.

India continues to lead the world in 5G subscription growth rate with more than seven million of the 175 million global subscriptions added between April and June (the second financial quarter – Q2) 2023 accounted for in the country.

China had the second highest country growth rate with more than five million 5G additions during Q2.

The United States was in third place with more than three million 5G subscription additions.

The four-page August 31 update is an addendum to the full edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report, published in June 2023. It focuses on recent updates to the quarterly subscription and traffic data sections.

Other information in the Q2-2023 update includes:

  • In Q2 2023, the number of mobile subscriptions totalled 8.3 billion, with a net addition of 40 million subscriptions during the quarter. The number of unique mobile subscribers is 6.1 billion.
  • Global mobile subscription penetration was 105 percent.
  • The number of mobile broadband subscriptions grew by about 100 million in the quarter, totalling 7.4 billion, a year-on-year increase of five percent. Mobile broadband now accounts for 88 percent of all mobile subscriptions.
  • Mobile data traffic grew by 33 percent between Q2 2022 and Q2 2023.
  • 4G subscriptions increased by 11 million, totalling about 5.2 billion and representing 62 percent of all mobile subscriptions.
  • WCDMA/HSPA subscriptions declined by 85 million and GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions dropped by 59 million during the quarter. Other technologies fell by about two million.


Ericsson Mobility Report: 5G monetization depends on network performance

Ericsson Mobility Report: 5G subscriptions in Q2 2022 are 690 million (vs. 8.3 billion total mobile users)

June 2022 Ericsson Mobility Report: 5G subscriptions increased by 70 million in Q1-2022 to reach 620 million


U.S. Network Operators and Equipment Companies Agree: 5G CAPEX slowing more than expected

We noted in a recent IEEE Techblog post that the 5G spending slowdown in the U.S. is broader than many analysts and executives expected.  Well, it’s worse than that! The previously referenced negative comments from the CEO of Crown Castle, were corroborated by American Tower last week:

“The recent pullback was more abrupt than our initial expectations,” said Rod Smith, the CFO for cell tower firm American Tower, during his company’s quarterly conference call last week, according to Seeking Alpha. Smith was discussing the reduction in US operator spending on 5G, a situation that is now cutting $40 million out of American Tower’s margin expectations.  “The initial burst of 5G activity has slowed down,” agreed the financial analysts at Raymond James in a note to investors following the release of American Tower’s earnings.

Cell tower giant SBA Communications said it too is seeing the broad pullback in spending that has affected its cell tower competitors (i.e. American Tower and Crown Castle). But the company’s management sought to reassure investors with promises of continued growth over the long term.  During their earnings call, SBA executives said they expect activity to increase next year as T-Mobile looks to add 3.45GHz and C-band spectrum to its network, and as Dish Network restarts its network buildout.

The two largest 5G network equipment vendors that sell gear in the U.S. are seeing similar CAPEX cutbacks. “We see some recovery in the second half of the year but it will be slower than previously expected,” Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark said earlier this month during his company’s quarterly conference call, in response to a question about the company’s sales in North America. His comments were transcribed by Seeking Alpha.  Ericsson’s CEO, Borje Ekholm, is experiencing similar trends: “We see the buildout pace being moderated,” he said of the North American market, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript

AT&T’s CFO Pascal Desroches confirmed the #1 U.S. network operator is slowing its network spending. “We expect to move past peak capital investment levels as we exit the year,” he said  during AT&T’s quarterly conference call, as per a Seeking Alpha transcript. AT&T’s overall CAPEX would be $1 billion lower in the second half of 2023 when compared with the first half of this year due to greatly reduced 5G network build-outs.

“This implies full year capex of ~$23.7 billion, which management believes is consistent with their prior full year 2023 capex guidance of ‘~$24 billion, near consistent with 2022 levels’ and includes vendor financing payments,” wrote the financial analysts at Raymond James in their assessment of AT&T’s second quarter results, citing prior AT&T guidance.

“Although management declined to guide its 2024 outlook, it has suggested that it expects capital investments to come down as it progresses past the peak of its 5G investment and deployments. We believe the trends present largely known CY23 [calendar year 2023] headwinds for direct 5G plays CommScope, Ericsson and Nokia. Opportunities from FWA [fixed wireless access] might provide modest offsets and validate Cambium’s business. AT&T’s focus on meeting its FCF [free cash flow] targets challenge all of its exposed suppliers, which also include Ciena, Infinera and Juniper,” the financial services firm added.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg told a Citi investor conference in January that CAPEX would drop to about $17bn in 2024, down from $22bn in 2022″  “We continue to expect 2023 capital spending to be within our guidance of $18.25 billion to $19.25 billion. Our peak capital spend is behind us, and we are now at a business-as-usual run rate for capex, which we expect will continue into 2024,” explained Verizon CFO Tony Skiadas during his company’s quarterly conference call last week, according to Seeking Alpha.

“After years of underperformance, perhaps the best argument for Verizon equity is that expectations are very low. They are coming into a phase where capex will fall now that they’ve largely completed their 5G network augmentation. Higher free cash flow will flatter valuations, but it will also, more importantly, lead to de-levering first, and potentially even to share repurchases down the road,” speculated the analysts at MoffettNathanson in a research note to investors following the release of Verizon’s earnings.

T-Mobile USA had previously said its expansive 5G build-out had achieved a high degree of scale and it would reduce its capex sharply starting in 2023.”We expect capex to taper in Q3 and then further in Q4,” said T-Mobile USA’s CFO Peter Osvaldik during his company’s quarterly conference call last week, according to Seeking Alpha. He said T-Mobile’s capex for 2023 would total just under $10 billion.  T-Mobile hopes to cover around 300 million people with its 2.5GHz midband network by the end of this year. Afterward, it plans to invest in its network only in locations where such investments are necessary.

Similarly, Verizon and AT&T are completing deployments of their midband C-band 5G networks, and will slow spending after doing so.  That’s even though neither telco has deployed a 5G SA core network which involves major expenses to build, operate and maintain.

Dish Network managed to meet a federal deadline to cover 70% of the U.S. population with it’s 5G OpenRAN in June. As a result, the company said it would pause its spending until next year at the earliest.

American Tower was a bit more hopeful that CAPEX would pick up in the future:

  • “Moderation in carrier spend following the recent historic levels of activity we’ve seen in the industry isn’t unexpected and is consistent with past network generation investment cycles,” explained CFO Rod Smith.  
  • “The cycles typically progress as there’s a coverage cycle. It’s what we’ve seen in past cycles, including 3G and 4G. It’s an initial multiyear period of elevated coverage capex, and it’s tied to new G spectrum aimed at upgrading the existing infrastructure,” said American Tower’s CEO Tom Bartlett. “And then later in the cycle, it will fill back into a capacity stage where we’ll start to see more densification going on. So I’m hopeful that our investor base doesn’t get spooked by the fact that this is a pullback. It’s very consistent. The cadence is really spot on with what we’ve seen with other technologies.”

In April, Dell’Oro Group analyst Stefan Pongratz forecast global telecom capex is projected to decline at a 2% to 3% CAGR over the next 3 years, as positive growth in India will not be enough to offset sharp capex cuts in North America.  He also predicted that wireless CAPEX in the North America (NA) region would decline 10% to 20% in 2023 as per this chart:

Now, that NA CAPEX decline seems more like 30% this year!



U.S. 5G spending slowdown continues; RAN revenues set to decline for years!

USA’s 5G capex bubble will burst this year as three main operators cut back

GSM 5G-Market Snapshot Highlights – July 2023 (includes 5G SA status)

Worldwide Telecom Capex to Decline in 2023, According to Dell’Oro Group

Dell’Oro: Telecom Capex Growth to Slow in calendar years 2022-2024



U.S. 5G spending slowdown continues; RAN revenues set to decline for years!

The 5G spending slowdown in the U.S. is broader than many analysts and executives expected.  Dell’Oro’s Stefan Pongratz recently wrote:

“Even if it is early days in the broader 5G journey, the challenge now is the comparisons are becoming more challenging in the more mature 5G markets and the upside with the slower-to-adopt 5G regions is not enough to extend the growth streak.  Meanwhile, growth from new revenue streams including Fixed Wireless Access and enterprise LTE/5G is not ramping fast enough to change the trajectory. With 5G-Advanced not expected to trigger a new capex cycle, the question now is no longer whether RAN will grow. The question now is, rather, how much will the RAN market decline before 6G comes along?

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Dish Network broadly spent 50% less on their 5G network build-outs than Crown Castle [1.] CEO Jay Brown expected. As a result, Crown Castle cut $90 million in expected services revenues from its full year 2023 financial forecast.


Note 1. Crown Castle offers services including new cell site development and equipment installation.  The company has a nationwide footprint of 40K+ cell towers, ~115K small cell nodes on air or under contract and more than 80K route miles of fiber optic cable.


“So the back half of 2023, we did see a change relative to what we previously expected,” Brown said last week during his company’s quarterly conference call, as per a Seeking Alpha transcript. “The first half of 2023 came in exactly where we thought it was going to, and we saw the change in activity during the quarter. And that’s what affected our second half of the year, the activity that we’ll see in the – we believe we’ll see in the third and the fourth quarter.”

“I believe this initial surge in tower activity [among U.S. network operators] has ended,” Brown said, arguing that early 5G network buildout programs are coming to an end. “In the second quarter, we saw tower activity levels slowed significantly. As a result, we are decreasing our 2023 outlook primarily as a result of lower tower services margin.”

“From our perspective, this new guidance is as close to a disaster as it gets,” wrote the financial analysts at KeyBanc Capital Markets in a note to investors last week. The analysts said the cell tower industry broadly is very stable, and warnings like those from Crown Castle are few and far between. “We struggle to understand how the … trajectory could change so materially.”


Nokia and Ericsson take a hit:

5G network equipment vendor Nokia experienced a huge revenue drop of 40% from the North America market. Nokia CFO Marco Wiren stated that was “a result of declines across all business groups as inventory digestion continued and [communication service providers] reevaluated their spending plans.”

“The weakness was clearly visible,” Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark said earlier this month, according to Seeking Alpha.

Nokia’s 5G FWA business has run into some market challenges, specifically tied to the vendor being “highly sensitive to a very small number of customers.”  “Especially in North America, now when those deployments are significantly more slow, there is inherently some volatility here,” Lundmark explained.

Likewise, Ericsson’s CEO Borje Ekholm said the vendor’s quarterly sales in North America represented “one of the lowest shares we’ve seen in many years. But on the other hand, we see India growing very, very fast.”


“We believe AT&T is a primary culprit with slow spending, but inventory absorption is occurring with other operators too,” wrote the financial analysts at Raymond James in a recent note to investors. “CommScope has exposure to the same mobile and fixed access projects as well as an operator bias to its business. Ciena has high exposure to the North American operators (fiber backhaul from cell sites), but we think guidance it offered in early June reflected AT&T absorbing inventory. Ciena, Infinera, and Juniper have material cloud exposure that we believe is improving as an offset to slower telcos.”






GSM 5G-Market Snapshot Highlights – July 2023 (includes 5G SA status)

By the end of June 2023, GSA had identified 535 network operators in 162 countries and territories were investing in 5G, including trials, acquisition of licences, planning, network deployment and launches.

This number excludes nearly 200 additional companies awarded priority access licences in the U.S. auction of CBRS spectrum, which could potentially be used for 5G

Of those, a total of 259 operators in 102 countries and territories had launched one or more 3GPP-compliant 5G services 252 operators in 100 countries and territories had launched 5G mobile services 113 operators in 62 countries and territories had launched 3GPP-compliant 5G fixed wireless access services (just over 43% of those with launched 5G services)

13 operators had announced soft launches of their 5G networks that are not counted in the above launch figures 115 operators are identified as investing in 5G standalone (including those evaluating/testing, piloting, planning and deploying, as well as those that have launched 5G standalone networks).

GSA has catalogued 41 operators as having deployed or launched 5G standalone (SA) in public networks.

115 network operators are identified as investing in standalone 5G (including those evaluating, testing, piloting, planning and deploying as well as those that have launched standalone 5G networks).

GSA has catalogued 2,039 announced 5G devices, up by more than 62% from 1,257 at the start of 2022 GSA has identified 1,083 announced 5G phones, up more than 76% from 613 at the start of 2022

There are at least 1,650 commercially available 5G devices, up more than 66% annually from 990


5G-Market Snapshot July 2023

GSA: 5G Device Ecosystem June 2023 Summary

GSA FWA Report: 38 commercially launched 5G FWA networks in the EU; Speeds revealed

Malaysia’s Maxis agreement with DNB to provide nationwide 5G services

Malaysian telco Maxis  executed a 5G access agreement with state-run network operator Digital Nasional (DNB), according to local press reports.

Maxis said it will seek its shareholders’ approval for the execution of the agreement, at an extraordinary general meeting to be carried out in the third quarter.  If the agreement is approved, Maxis will become the last of the country’s mobile operators to agree to execute the 5G access agreement with DNB.

Telekom Malaysia, CelcomDigi, YTL Communications and U Mobile have all agreed to the wholesale access agreement with the state-run network operator.

“DNB remains the single neutral wholesale network provider to undertake the deployment of 5G infrastructure and network nationwide as at the latest practicable date. Therefore, the entry into the access agreement with DNB will enable Maxis to provide the 5G services to its customers,” the company said in a filing to the local stock exchange.

The filing also indicated the price to be paid by Maxis to execute the agreement is yet to be determined and may be subject to periodic reviews conducted by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission as well as a by DNB.

Maxis said it is expected to incur operating expenses of RM360 million ($79.3 million) per year for the national 5G wholesale network access.

DNB was set up by the Malaysian government in 2021 as a special purpose vehicle to develop the country’s 5G network infrastructure, which private telecommunications firms would use to offer 5G services to their customers.

However, Malaysia’s 5G roll-out by DNB had raised concerns over pricing and transparency, as well as worries that a single state-run 5G network would result in a nationalized monopoly.

Due to these concerns, the new prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, had previously announced an overall review of the rollout of the national 5G network due to the lack of transparency. In May, the government announced it will enable the deployment of a second 5G network in 2024, adding that a new entity will be created to manage Malaysia’s second 5G network.

Malaysia’s Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil recently said that DNB will continue to roll out 5G network infrastructure in the country until 80% coverage is achieved by the end of this year. The Malaysian government also confirmed that DNB will be taken over by a private entity once it achieves its 5G population coverage target.

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