My take is that none of the five network vendors is ahead, but Ericsson certainly is starting to see results from concentrating on 5G.  Frederico Rigoni, their Italian lead, is showing a new swagger after a profitable quarter. He tells Mila Fiordalisi of CorCom, "Ericsson is first in the world on 5G."  He believes Ericsson's market share has recently climbed from 28% to 30%, partly on strength in the U.S. They've raised their R & D spending from 14.4% to 18.8%, almost all on wireless. Ericsson scored a major victory at Telstra, staving off Nokia.

"On the network front everything is ready for 5G." Rigoni is hopeful of significant sales in 2019. "We are receiving requests from other operators of our customers to accelerate the planned roadmap." Like everyone else, he's waiting on phones.

I'm skeptical of claims like this because each of the vendors can find a way to say they are first. Huawei, with a US$15 billion research budget has by far the broadest line.  Their Finnish deployment at Elisa went commercial before Verizon and I have data. Samsung pioneered 5G research back in 2011. Nokia is always a contender. ZTE wins contracts over Huawei in China. Chinese government banks have poured in US$10 billion to make sure the company thrives. They will have the greatest growth, 2019 over 2018.

Rigoni made a possibly misleading comment. "There is no doubt that mobile data traffic grows year by year in an incredible way. Worldwide there was 52% more traffic than last year." One of the key factors for the industry in Europe and the U.S. is that growth is slowing. Cisco expects it to fall to 30% in the U.S. in 2021. VP Thomas Noren's claim, "Traffic continues to double every 18 months," no longer applies in the U.S. or most of Europe. Italy, where Xavi is an aggressive 4th operator, could be an exception.

Finding enough customers is far more important than building capacity at most telcos today.  

dave askOn Oct 1, Verizon will turn on the first $20B 5G mmWave network, soon offering a gigabit or close to 30M homes. The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while keeping capex at around 15%.

The Koreans, Chinese, and almost all Europeans are not doing mmWave in favor of mid-band "5G," with 4G-like performance. Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 4X to 10X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year. I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

The predicted massive small cell builds are a pipe dream for vendors for at least five years. Verizon expects to reach a quarter of the U.S. without adding additional small cells. 

In the works: Enrique Blanco and Telefonica's possible mmWave disruption of Germany; Believe it or don't: 5G is cheap because 65% of most cities can be covered by upgrading existing cells; Verizon is ripping out and replacing 200,000 pieces of gear expecting to save half. 

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 5G Why Verizon thinks differently and what to do about it is a new report I wrote for STL Partners and their clients.

STL Partners, a British consulting outfit I respect, commissioned me to ask why. That report is now out. If you're a client, download it here. If not, and corporate priced research is interesting to you, ask me to introduce you to one of the principals.

It was fascinating work because the answers aren't obvious. Lowell McAdam's company is spending $20B to cover 30M+ homes in the first stage. The progress in low & mid-band, both "4G" and "5G," has been remarkable. In most territories, millimeter wave will not be necessary to meet expected demand.

McAdam sees a little further. mmWave has 3-4X the capacity of low and mid-band. He sees an enormous marketing advantage: unlimited services, even less congestion, reputation as the best network. Verizon testing found mmWave rate/reach was twice what had been estimated. All prior cost estimates need revision.

My take: even if mmWave doesn't fit in your current budget, telcos should expand trials and training to be ready as things change. The new cost estimates may be low enough to change your mind.