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.





ITU-R Report: Terrestrial IMT for remote sparsely populated areas providing high data rate coverage

ITU-R WP 5D is progressing a preliminary draft new Report ITU-R M.[IMT TERRESTRIAL BROADBAND REMOTE COVERAGE] which we offer highlights of in this IEEE Techblog post.  Co-authors of this draft 5D document are: Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, Nokia Corporation, Telefon AB – LM Ericsson, Qualcomm Inc. and ZTE Corporation.

This post is an update and replacement of an earlier version, which can be read here.  The scope has been broadened to include all types of IMT, not just IMT 2020 (5G).


On a global basis, the total number of mobile subscriptions was around 8 billion in Q3 2019, with 61 million subscriptions added during the quarter, the mobile subscription penetration is at 104 percent. There are 5.9 billion unique mobile subscribers using mobile networks, while 1.8 billion people remain unconnected. In year 2025 it is forecasted to be 2.6 billion 5G subscriptions and 8.6 billion mobile subscriptions globally at a penetration level of about 110 percent[1].

In 2025 the forecast is for 6.8 billion unique mobile subscribers using mobile networks, while 1.5 billion people remain unconnected, many of whom are below the age of nine.

The prospect of providing mobile and home broadband services for most of the 1.5 billion unconnected people, living in such underserved rural areas, is largely related to techno-economic circumstances.

This Report provides details on scenarios associated with the provisioning of enhanced mobile broadband services to remote sparsely populated and underserved areas with a discussion on enhancements of user and network equipment.


Deploying networks in remote areas is normally more expensive, and at the same time, expected revenues are lower in comparison with deployments in populated areas. A further reason for not being incentivized to deploy new IMT broadband (e.g. IMT-2020/5G) Base Stations (BS) in these areas is the expected number of new BS sites. Therefore, the total economic incentives to deploy traditional networks in sparsely populated areas are consequently narrowed.

[1] Ericsson Mobility Report, November 2019, mobile broadband includes radio access technologies HSPA (3G), LTE (4G), 5G, CDMA2000 EV-DO, TD-SCDMA and Mobile WiMAX.


The competition model, applying to densely populated areas, is normally not providing rural coverage expansion at a speed that society wish. Connectivity in underserved remote areas is important to national policy makers facing needs of consumers, to service providers for reasons of branding, and to satisfy regulatory conditions in countries.

When expanding coverage in remote areas, it may imply an undesirable local monopoly, suggesting that only one service provider would expand in to such a remote area due to a low consumer base.

Rural coverage might in the future be driven by the need for national security and public safety connectivity, intelligent traffic systems, internet of things, industry automation and end users need for home broadband services as an alternative to fiber connections.  In order to fulfill the needs of rural coverage, it is a matter of urgency to identify viable solutions for mobile and home broadband services.

Related ITU-R Recommendations and Reports:

ITU-R Recommendations

M.819        “International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT-2000) for developing countries”.

ITU-R Reports

M.1155      “Adaptation of mobile radiocommunication technology to the needs of developing countries”

Solutions that support remote sparsely populated areas providing high data rate coverage:

Possible technical solutions to achieve both extended coverage as well as high capacity in remote areas could be to use dual frequency bands at the same time, one lower band for the uplink (UL) and one higher band for the downlink (DL), in aggregated configurations.

Combining spectrum bands in the mid-band range and the low-band range on an existing grid can provide extended capacity compared to a network only using the low-band range.

An alternative technical solution to provide extended coverage in a remote area using a reduced number of terrestrial BS sites, aiming to bringing cost down, requires careful selection of proper locations and technical characteristics compared to configurations of suburban networks. Realizing such extended network configuration for coverage, several considerations need to be taken into account, both at a BS site and at customer premises. Considerations of accommodating BSs on high towers in sparsely populated areas could be further studied. Such opportunities rest with traditionally high tower used for analogue or digital television with an average inter-site distance (ISD) of the order of 60 km to 80 km designed to provide blanket coverage of national terrestrial television services.

With potential enhancements of base station (BS), user equipment (UE), and customer premises home broadband configurations, it is deemed feasible to deploy a standalone network in the range 3.5 GHz providing high capacity and coverage over tens of kilometers in rural areas. This could potentially be a promising solution for bringing IMT broadband (e.g. IMT-2020/5G) to underserved regions.

Combining spectrum bands in the mid-band range 3.5 GHz and the low-band range, e.g. 600 MHz, 700 MHz or 800 MHz, on an existing grid can provide extended capacity compared to a network only using the low-band range. The reason being that the mid-band range offer access to more spectrum bandwidth, and the low-band range combined, can provide the coverage for cell edge users in a unified manner.

Generally, at a BS site, the antenna height and the radio frequency (RF) output power have a profound impact on the coverage and capacity performance. Effective performance solutions are also represented by a high level of antenna sectorization, high antenna beamforming gain, and the use of MIMO antennas, as well as the use of carrier-aggregation. Furthermore, additional spectrum bands and bandwidth, and usage of redundant signaling protocol will improve performance. As the UL performance is the limiting factor, enhancing the UE transmission performance is key to enable extended coverage. For a home broadband deployment in a “wireless fiber” configuration using an outdoor directional antenna mounted line-of-sight to the BS antenna site extend the coverage range significantly by avoiding building penetration losses.

Underserved sparsely populated areas are every so often characterized by limited internet access and basic mobile service provide by a 2G network designed for voice connectivity. Therefore, one of the key aspects providing coverage in a remote area, aiming to bringing cost down, is possible to use such existing 2G network grid by means of conventional spectrum bands in 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 850 MHz or 900 MHz for UL connectivity in combination with the band 3.5 GHz for the DL system installed in a high tower used for analogue or digital terrestrial television with an average ISD of the order of 60 km to 80 km designed to provide blanket coverage of national terrestrial television services.

It is assumed that a conventional 2G or 4G antenna arrangement is used for the UL system. For the IMT-2020/5G 3.5 GHz DL system, an antenna array is assumed to have 64 dual-polarized antenna elements installed in a television towers at a height of about 250 m. The considered ISD is regarded to be representative for a conventional 2G network grid. The maximum supported coupling loss for 2G is approximately 137 – 144 dB to support acceptable control channel signaling, and here assuming a maximum of 140 dB coupling loss is needed for basic coverage. The propagation losses are similar for IMT-Advanced/4G at 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 850 MHz and at 900 MHz, here searching for an ISD that results in 140 dB coupling loss at the cell-edge for 4G at 800 MHz. From experience it is estimated that at 140 dB coupling loss occurs at an ISD of about 4 km. In terms of IMT-2020/5G, a beamformed coupling loss of approximately 143 dB should be supported.

The DL and UL user throughput can be estimated in a deployment scenario using the parameters above. For DL, over 20 times capacity gain can be achieved by utilizing an additional IMT-2020/5G connectivity link in the band 3.5 GHz compared to an IMT-Advanced/4G connectivity link only in the band 800 MHz. This is in recognition of the wider bandwidth of the band 3.5 GHz together with the advanced BS antenna array deployed. For users located at the cell edge, data rates of over 100 Mbit/s can be reached in the DL direction using conventional 5G UE terminals.

Due to the limited UE transmit power of 23 dBm together with the propagation conditions in the band 3.5 GHz, a standalone network has limited possibilities to provide adequate coverage in the UL direction for users located at the cell edge.

Adding the new band 3.5 GHz for mobile and home broadband connectivity, networks can clearly deliver on the promise to increase on the coverage requirements for IMT-2020/5G services, but only adequately in the DL direction. For such a communication circumstances, a IMT-2000/2G or IMT-Advanced/4G grid is indispensable to combine to provide adequate UL coverage.

Analyzing configurations for an IMT broadband network operating only in the band 3.5 GHz:

For the circumstances in underserved remote areas the DL capacity performance can be significantly improved by using the band 3.5 GHz whilst the UL coverage is representing the bottleneck in attempts of satisfying needs for coverage. With potential upgrades of BS and consumer premises UE configurations, the feasibility of providing improved remote area coverage is considered by using only the band 3.5 GHz.

Addressing firstly the UL coverage issue for a standalone network using only the band 3.5 GHz, a potential network upgrade can include increased BS antenna height. Obviously, increased RF power only would not resolve the issues involved. In addition, improved configuration, such as usage of high gain directional UE antenna deployed at the consumer premises for home broadband systems may need to be incorporated into the network design for improved remote coverage and for the reciprocity between DL and UL performance.

This assumption for IMT-2020/5G macro sites is considering the use of television towers at a height of about 250 m, applying ISDs of the order of 60 km to 80 km which is considered to reflect realistic distances for current terrestrial television networks.

In addition, a conventional RF power of 23 dBm is considered for UE at the consumer premises using home broadband services configured for rooftop installation using a high-gain antenna of 20 dBi at about 10 m height can reach 5 Mbit/s at cell edge at reasonably low traffic loads for the UL, and 120 Mbit/s for DL.

With omni-directional UE antennas, the ISD will need to be reduced to 40 km to achieve similar performance at cell edge.

Annex 1. List of acronyms and abbreviations: 

BS Base Station
DL Downlink
ISD Inter-Site Distance
MIMO Multiple Input Multiple Output
RF Radio Frequency
UE User Equipment
UL Uplink



ITU-R Proposal: Report on IMT-2020 for remote sparsely populated areas providing high data rate coverage