5G mobile network radio business doubled in 2019

The number of mobile-network radio units supporting 5G on the market more than doubled in 2019, according to GlobalData.
Ericsson LTE network supplier
The number of 5G radio units offered by five leading vendors – Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung and ZTE – grew 112 percent in 2019, from 272 products at the beginning of the year to 578 at the end.

“5G rollouts accelerated in 2019 — especially among early adopters in the US, Japan and Korea, and their equipment suppliers have been busy commercializing a wide variety of gear to meet a diverse set of global market needs,” Ed Gubbins, principal analyst at GlobalData, said.

Radio units with integrated antennas have grown from 26 percent of available units in late 2018 to 38 percent in late 2019. This greater level of integration has multiple implications, from positive – including greater simplicity – to potentially negative, including more challenging installations of bulkier gear.

Massive MIMO products, whose beamforming capabilities improve 5G service quality by focusing mobile signals directly toward users, have also more than doubled in 2019.

“The trends we’re seeing toward increased integration of the elements of the radio access network help explain some of the moves we’ve seen recently, such as Ericsson’s acquisition of Kathrein’s antenna assets,” Ed Gubbins said.

“They raise questions about how integrated mobile network operators want their 5G networks to be and to what extent they want to disaggregate these networks, so they can source different network elements from different vendors and encourage more competition in their supplier base,” Ed Gubbins said.

5G Capex

Research firm Dell’Oro Group in November said surging 5G NR demand propelled the RAN market in 3Q 2019 to a fifth consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth for the first time in over a decade.

“While mid-band Massive MIMO continues to drive the lion share of the 5G Capex, both low-band and Millimeter Wave (mmW) 5G NR deployments accelerated significantly in the quarter,” Stefan Pongratz, analyst at Dell’Oro Group, said.

The pickup in RAN revenues was reflected in shipment trends, with total BTS shipments –macro and small cell — advancing at a double-digit pace.

Aggregate growth for RAN systems using advanced antenna systems — including sub 6 GHz Massive MIMO and mmW — accelerated in the third quarter, accounting for 10 to 20 percent of the year-to-date RAN revenues.

RAN revenue rankings for the top three vendors — Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia — were stable in the quarter and for the year-to-date period, Dell’Oro Group said.

5G smartphone

IDC projects the number of 5G connections to grow from roughly 10 million in 2019 to 1.01 billion in 2023. This represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 217.2 percent over the 2019-2023 forecast period. IDC expects 5G will represent 8.9 percent of all mobile device connections by 2023.

Another GlobalData report said as more devices become available across price tiers, 2020 will be the ramp-up year for 5G.

“Coverage will continue to grow across regions, and carriers will engage with partners to find ways to monetize 5G devices and services,” said Anisha Bhatia, senior device analyst at GlobalData.

“In 2020, we will see manufacturers such as Lenovo and HMD (Nokia) in the U.S., along with Xiaomi and OPPO in Europe and Asia, hitting the market with lower-priced 5G smartphones in the $500-$700 range, with some even being offered for less than $500,” Anisha Bhatia said.

Qualcomm recently announced mid-range 5G integrated chipset, the Snapdragon 765, at its tech summit earlier this month in Maui, Hawaii. The latest 5G chipset from Qualcomm will help lower barriers to entry in 5G and bring down the price of 5G-enabled smartphones. Qualcomm’s 5G chipset supports both mmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum, which are being used for 5G deployments.