Tech Research Firm: China is Winning Race to 5G

China is winning the race to 5G and it is on track to dominate in the near term, at least in the number of connections. 

That is the takeaway from a new forecast from tech adviser ABI Research. 

ABI predicts only 12 million 5G connections worldwide by the end of 2019, but said that will jump to 205 million by 2020, launching "the golden age." ABI also predicted a lot of gold will be invested in that deployment--nearly $1.2 trillion over the next five years to build out 5G networks.  

Related: Rosenworcel Tells Senate U.S. Lacks 5G Plan

By mid-2020, when 5G starts to take off, says ABI research director Dimitris Mavrakis, "China will start to dominate in terms of connections, and as a result, market interest and technology expertise." 

The Trump Administration has made winning that race a prime directive, and the White House's top telecom adviser recently that the U.S. is winning, powered by an unmatched free enterprise system. But ABI doesn't see it that way, depending on how "race" is defined. 

ABI predicts that Chinese operators will have 143 million 5G subs by the end of 2020, or an "overwhelming 70% of the total worldwide connections, compared to about 28 million in the U.S. by 2025." 

There is some good news for U.S. networks, though. While China will have the lion's share of subs, U.S. revenue will be higher by 2025 due to higher prices for service. 

The findings came out as Washington was playing host to a future of 5G conference, DC5G, sponsored by SES Networks and the Department of Homeland Security.

During an opening panel Tuesday (Nov. 5), Alan Tilles, chairman of telecommunications at Shulman Rogers--he represents municipal wireless operators among others--suggested the focus on winning a race to 5G was a red herring.  

He said at conferences like the one he was speaking at, "someone will always say: 'The U.S. must be first to deploy 5G.' I stand up and ask, why? What's wrong with being second here. It's not like we won't be able to have 5G." 

He said at one conference, a carrier representative said: "You don't want [suspect Chinese telecom] Huawei to become the standard, do you?" he said Huawei doesn't set the standards, its the 3GPP group.  

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.