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.