If you are someone who pays even the slightest bit of attention to the wireless industry, “5G” is a buzzword you may have heard a hundred times over. The next generation of mobile Internet connectivity, 5G offers faster speeds and more reliable networks. Promising to be one of the backbones of the Internet of Things, 5G networks are beginning to appear around the world. The race is on to see which country will be the first to offer a true “nationwide” network. Until then, these launches are decidedly scattered. Let’s take a look at where things stand around the world.
The United States is structured around four major carriers: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. While the latter two are attempting to merge, all four are heavily focused on 5G rollouts. Verizon is currently live in fifteen cities around the U.S. It has already spoken about plans to cover a total of nineteen cities by the end of 2019.
T-Mobile’s 5G service currently covers six cities including Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York. It has committed to launching a nationwide 5G network in December 2019 covering more than 200 million people. Sprint currently has 5G coverage in nine cities around the U.S., covering a total of sixteen million people.
AT&T is something of a laggard right now promising to start its 5G rollout sometime in 2020. In the interim, their “5G Evolution” technology is something of a happy medium between 4G and 5G. To date, the company has availability in 19 cities. Like Sprint, they have not committed to hard numbers for 5G network size in 2020.
As the world’s largest wireless market, it is expected that China will play a critical role in a worldwide 5G network rollout. In early November 2019, state-owned carriers China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom unveiled a 5G network. To date, this network is available in 50 Chinese cities. These cities include Beijing and Shanghai, two of the world’s largest cities, which makes this rollout the world’s most significant to date. The companies expect to cover more than 600 million 5G subscribers by 2025, which would account for more than 40 percent of the global total.
South Korea saw its first 5G towers go online in April 2019 and proclaimed itself the world’s first 5G network. The South Korean government has committed to covering more than thirty percent of its population by the end of 2020. That number increases to more than 90 percent by the end of 2026.
On any of the three wireless networks currently live, users are seeing 5G speeds upward of 700 Mbps on 5G devices. That is compared to an average of 30 to 50 Mbps on the 4G LTE networks. On top of wireless connectivity, South Korea is already well on its way to utilizing its 5G network to test autonomous vehicles in real road environments.
Inside the United Kingdom, EE, Vodafone and Three have all begun their 5G network rollouts. The country’s last big carrier, 02, has been rolling out 5G over the past thirty days. Currently available in 17 cities like London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff, coverage remains rather limited. EE claims that its users should see network speeds around 240 Mpbs. On the other hand, Three promises speed that more than double its rivals. All totaled, the four main carriers in the UK should see more than 100 cities go live with 5G coverage by the end of 2020.
While South Korea might lay claim to being the first 5G rollout, Switzerland can claim to be the largest. Swisscom, one of the country’s primary wireless carriers, has gone live in dozens of cities with more to come in 2020. Sunrise, another of the country’s major networks, has gone live in over 309 cities, giving it a massive lead over its competitors. Sunrise has even gone as far as saying it hopes to achieve a nationwide 5G network on all of its towers by the end of 2019.
One of Germany’s main wireless partners, Deutsche Telekom has already launched its 5G network in a handful of cities. This list includes some of the most prominent locations in Germany including Berlin, Munich, and Cologne. The company has committed to covering more than 20 cities by the end of 2020. Its main rival, Vodafone, is currently live in 20 cities, though it has yet to state how much coverage it will provide by the end of 2019.
Worldwide efforts to roll out 5G networks are continuing to ramp up across the world. Australia, Argentina, Japan, Canada, India, Russia, and more countries are all in the midst of rolling out their first 5G networks. That said, it will be another decade before we begin to see coverage that rivals today’s 4G LTE. Given what carriers are promising about the speed and reliability of 5G coverage, it should be well worth the wait.