2019 has been widely referred to as ‘the year of 5G’, and it’s increasingly easy to see why. Following the first commercial launches in the US and South Korea (nationwide rollout by all three operators concurrently across all key cities and towns) on the 3rd of April this year, there are now 22 live 5G networks globally – reaching nearly 1 in 20 people across the world so far – as operators invest nearly $160 billion annually on expanding and upgrading their infrastructure to deliver this revolution in connectivity. Pre-commercial launch of 5G will take place in Japan next month, as NTT DoCoMo prepares for full commercial implementation next year; China begins nationwide rollout in October of this year, starting in Shanghai; in that same month O2 will become the fourth operator to launch in the UK, where even the remote Orkney Islands are in line for coverage; and just last week in the US, Verizon brought its 5G network to a further 4 cities, with a total of 30 US cities scheduled for coverage by the end of the year.
5G enables mass-market enjoyment of services which simply aren’t possible without it – for instance immersive Cloud XR gaming, which as delegates at MWC19 Shanghai heard in June is currently the preserve of those with expensive high-end hardware, but can soon be brought to owners of much more everyday devices. For these services to meet the expectations of consumers in today’s ever-more connected world, however, users need to be able to enjoy them seamlessly between different jurisdictions as they travel – which has now thankfully become a technological and commercial reality. In Korea – which became home to the world’s first nationwide 5G networks this year – two of the operators who worked together to roll 5G out across their own country are now leading the way on 5G roaming.
LG Uplus carried out the world’s first successful trials of 5G roaming in Finland last month (delivered in collaboration with Elisa, Finland’s largest operator), with commercial implementation now in place. The testing process allowed LG Uplus to learn valuable lessons on how to monitor and distinguish 5G traffic from 4G, allowing the appropriate billing, which of course is essential to ensuring these substantial investments are economical. Also helping to spearhead 5G roaming is SK Telecom, which has agreed a strategic partnership with Swisscom to enable roaming between South Korea and Switzerland. Customers of SK Telecom using the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G will, upon download of a simple software update, be able to use 5G via Swisscom when in Switzerland, where Swisscom is working to expand 5G coverage to 90% of the population by the end of the year.
The GSMA is working to remove barriers for all new entrants into the vibrant and growing 5G ecosystem, with engagement events across the world to convene stakeholders and foster discussion of shared challenges: our upcoming seminar The 5G Era: Consumer Devices of the Future at MWC19 Los Angeles, for instance, will convene senior players in this space to consider how 5G is transforming the devices that consumers use on a day-to-day basis. As momentum continues to build behind 5G around the world, we can expect that transformation to become quickly more apparent in the very near future.