Making 5G real

US 5G mobile index

A modest start to 5G adoption

The conversation about 5G is heating up as more markets come online. Select customers in select cities have access to 5G and announcements are breaking weekly. How far has 5G come? With what velocity will the rollout continue?

In our US 5G Mobile Index, PwC’s US telecom industry panel provides its analysis of 5G progress to date and projects six months into the future. As 5G devices become available and more markets come online, it will be reflected in the index.

Our analysis conducted as of July 1, 2019 finds we are just off the starting block. Less than 1% of the US population has 5G coverage available at their home or business. And less than 0.5% of mobile devices in use are 5G enabled. It is the intersection of these two data points that reflect the US 5G marketplace. The road ahead is a very long one and in many ways more complex than it was for prior mobile generations.

As we look out six months to January 1, 2020, we predict 10% of the US population will have access to 5G network coverage and 2% of devices will be 5G enabled.

“While the 5G hype cycle has ramped up to near full speed, our analysis indicates that less than 1% of the US population has 5G coverage available at their home or business as of July 1, 2019, while less than 0.5% of mobile devices in use within the US are capable of receiving a 5G signal."

Mark McCaffrey

What’s the hold up to adoption?

Building a 5G network is different from 4G because of the inherent specifications of the technology. It requires a higher density network that has regulatory, cost and operational challenges, including the installation of hundreds of thousands of small cells across the country. It requires large bands of spectrum that are not currently available. Deploying 5G is immensely costly and at the moment consumers aren’t demanding (or willing to pay much more for it). And, 5G devices aren’t yet widely available.

5G promises to supercharge the connectivity experience, and upend the way we digest media, purchase products and services, and even operate our homes and businesses. But the use cases are far from real and wireless operators have work to do to make 5G pay. Industry collaboration among value chain players is uncomfortable for many and presents yet another impediment to innovation.

Why it matters 

As the 4th Industrial Revolution comes of age, enterprise users of 5G are beginning to question what 5G means for their business. The answer varies -- for some companies, very little, for others, a whole lot. Companies who are taking a customer-led, experience-driven approach to business transformation may find the challenges they face today and the innovation they aspire toward for tomorrow do not depend on 5G, which is a good thing. Because one thing is certain, the tipping point for 5G is a ways out. According to SNS Telecom & IT, around the year 2026, small cell shipments for 4G/LTE shipments start to decline year-over-year, and 5G continues to grow rapidly. And by 2030, it reaches a tipping point when 5G shipments is expected to exceed 4G/LTE small cell shipments*.

For wireless operators, 5G presents an opportunity to devise new business models, as well as improve their operating efficiency. There is much work ahead to firmly understand what consumers will want in the future and to design and deploy products that realize 5G use cases with the most potential.

*SNS Telecom & IT. "The Wireless Network Infrastructure Ecosystem - 2016 - 2030" 

*SNS Telecom & IT. "The Wireless Network Infrastructure Ecosystem - 2016 - 2030" (http://www.snstelecom.com/wireless-network-infrastructure)
*SNS Telecom & IT. "The Wireless Network Infrastructure Ecosystem - 2016 - 2030" (http://www.snstelecom.com/wireless-network-infrastructure)

Methodology and definitions

Methodology

  • PwC’s US Telecommunications Partner Panel reviewed 5G deployment data, announcements, and maps, as well as device announcements and sales data as of July 1, 2019, as is available in the public domain. Percentages for July 1, 2019 as well as forecasts for January 1, 2020 reflect the consensus estimate of the Panel.

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Definitions

  • Device penetration is defined as the % of mobile devices in service the US that are capable of receiving/transmitting a 5G signal.

  • 5G Mobile coverage is defined as % of the US population with mobile network service available in the home or business. 5G mobile includes deployment in all spectrum bands (low, mid, and high/mmWave).

  • Estimates do not currently include 5G fixed wireless deployments or adoption.

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Dan Hays

US Technology, Media and Telecommunications Corporate Strategy Leader, PwC's Strategy&, PwC US

Mark McCaffrey

US Technology, Media and Telecommunications Leader, PwC US

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