In June 2018, STL Partners made several predictions about the pace of 5G development. These predictions took into account factors acting as brakes and accelerants for 5G, and their potential impact on the overall ecosystem’s evolution. The intention was to get beyond the 5G hype to understand how quickly 5G would be in place and delivering the much-publicized benefits that have been promised.
According to the timeline of 5G developments, even without the unforeseen COVID-19 pandemic, 5G was not expected to be mainstream before 2023-24. The predictions highlighted significant potential pain points to be overcome before the successful delivery of 5G-specific applications becomes possible.
The accompanying report concluded that 5G dynamics were likely to require the mobile industry to transform itself, ahead of other industries, to tackle challenges in the medium term:
- Massive investment requirements could drive network sharing and consolidation.
- The technical complexity of 5G could give significant advantage to operators that are further down the curves for adopting software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtulisation (NFV) and AI for their own operations.
- Significant fibre needs (to connect 5G cell sites and antennas) could entrench converged operators with the ability to own and operate both network types.
- Additionally, the embedding of 5G connectivity within broader solutions – consumer or enterprise verticals – would require deeper specialisation and integration skills, limiting operator ability to service all 5G segments.
- Specialised customer requirements – coupled with the challenges of in-building coverage – may attract non-telco players to deploy and control their own 5G networks, perhaps in shared or localized spectrum allocations.
Measurable macroeconomic benefits from 5G were not considered realistic before 2025 in our timeline of 5G developments. This is consistent with the STL forecast produced in August 2020.