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January 14, 2021

2021 & 5G’s Expansion .

2021 & 5G’s Expansion

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Tom Sawanobori
Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer

2021 is here, bringing with it so much promise—including for 5G networks and our nation’s 5G economy.

Here are the key 5G things to look forward to in the year ahead:

The deployment of mid-band.

I can’t overstate the importance of mid-band for 5G networks. It provides that “just right” blend of coverage and capacity that’s key for making 5G’s speeds and real-time responsiveness widespread. And up until last summer, the U.S. had none, while our global peers were using it as the foundation of their 5G networks.

Last year, that began to change. While its power limits don’t allow for the most robust use, CBRS spectrum auctioned last summer will continue to be deployed. And the C-band auction will wrap up soon. By the end of 2021, the first tranche of markets will be cleared for deployment. The C-band auction is the highest grossing U.S. spectrum auction ever, a clear indicator of how important licensed mid-band spectrum is, as well as the importance of quickly bringing more licensed mid-band to market for commercial 5G services.

I hope policymakers continue to make more of this much needed mid-band spectrum available in the months ahead, starting with the on-schedule, on-track transition of C-band spectrum. I am also looking forward to the auction of 100 megahertz of 3.45 GHz spectrum this December as mandated by the bipartisan passage of the Beat CHINA for 5G Act, and continued study of what other lower 3 GHz spectrum can be made available for wireless on terms that will allow robust 5G deployments.

5G here, there and everywhere.

5G networks already cover over 270 million Americans—and are expanding at a faster rate than 4G—but wireless providers are not taking their foot off the gas. Deployments will continue to grow—including at stadiums and entertainment venues, in anticipation of our needs post-pandemic—bringing more Americans into the 5G economy. With more deployments and the addition of mid-band spectrum, America’s 5G networks will get even better.

The expansion of 5G’s capabilities.

As 5G matures, we’re seeing some exciting capabilities come forth. I think 2021 will be a big year for standalone 5G and network slicing, in particular.

  • Standalone 5G: 5G today relies on some 4G architecture, but in 2021, we expect to see major steps toward standalone 5G technology, built entirely for this new generation of wireless.
[For consumers], some of our current applications are going to run faster… [for enterprises] think about in terms of IoT… you can have smart meters and grids, robotics, AR/VR, think about the ultra-low latency, you can talk about people doing remote surgery one day, smart factories. This is what the potential holds from a SA perspective.
Mona Shukla, Head of Packet Core & Communications Services at Ericsson North America
  • Network slicing: Network slicing—or the ability to create optimized 5G networks within a traditional network for different use cases—is a feature many in the wireless industry have been looking forward to realizing. With the move to 5G standalone networks, providers are able to offer these virtual wireless channels with capabilities optimized for enterprise, public safety and government use.

A 5G device marketplace.

With all major device manufacturers now having a 5G smartphone on the market, we’ll see an uptick in consumer adoption. Globally, 600 million 5G-enabled smartphones will be in use in 2021, according to Strategy Analytics. Each operator has several 5G devices for customers, from smartphones to integrated phablets to folding devices, which will really enhance adoption. 5G IoT devices will start to take off this year too, as companies outside of the wireless industry start to experiment with 5G’s possibilities in earnest.

5G for education.

To date, the wireless industry has helped connect 2.4 million students during the pandemic by providing free and discounted devices and data plans. The introduction of more 5G hotspots in 2021 will be particularly important as learning and working from home continue this year, since these hotspots allow for many more devices to connect, with faster speeds. Students will increasingly have more 5G-powered educational experiences as well, as providers partner with museums and technology companies to offer virtual learning opportunities to see art, engage with artifacts and explore new places.

The growth of telemedicine.

The pandemic also saw telehealth solutions grow tremendously in popularity—the Cleveland Clinic reported that monthly telehealth visits jumped from 3,400 to over 60,000—an increase of more than 1,700%. This trend will only continue in 2021, enhanced by the continued deployment of 5G, which will enable high-quality real-time video streaming between doctors and patients, and the lightning-fast transmission of even the largest image files, such as MRIs.

2020 brought us nationwide 5G, and 2021 is going to be when consumers start to adopt it. The wider availability of 5G networks will also encourage more and more investment in 5G’s potential from other industries as they seek to take advantage of its low latency, increased capacity and fast speeds. The 5G economy is taking shape and I can’t wait for even more Americans across the country to reap its benefits.

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