5G World Map: A Global Breakdown of Deployment
There has been no shortage of talk about all the benefits 5G will bring (and we’ve covered them in another blog in this very series). But what people really want to know is - when will 5G be available in my area?
2020 has long been touted as the breakthrough year for 5G with commercial network launches expected to gather pace across the globe. So to put you in the picture ahead of 5G World, let’s take a look at the current 5G World Map, assessing how roll-out is progressing region-by-region, which countries are ahead of the game and how we can expect to see things develop by the end of the year.
Finding information about who launched the first 5G networks is harder than you might expect, with plenty of marketing hype and spin muddying the waters. So while Verizon and AT&T adamantly cling to their stories that they were the first to roll out 5G services in the US (see below), Switzerland’s Swisscom also has a fair claim to the title, switching on 5G services in more than 100 locations in April 2019 - roughly the same time South Korea announced its first commercial network launches.
Since then, 5G availability in Europe has been spearheaded by two countries - the UK and Germany. EE, the mobile operator arm of UK telecoms giant BT, was hot on the heels of Swisscom, switching on its first 5G services in May 2019. The UK’s other MNO’s - Vodafone, O2 and Three - all followed with commercial service launches in 2019, making the UK one of only a handful of countries where 5G is available through every major operator. 5G in the UK has also been characterised by early involvement by MVNOs, with four virtual operators already offering customer 5G connections, and a competitive focus on service and pricing. Three, for example, is offering customers unlimited 5G data with no speed cap, for no extra cost.
Two of Germany's three mobile operators, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone, introduced 5G services in June 2019. Focusing on the country’s big cities to start with, Deutsche Telekom has done more in terms of density of coverage, reportedly switching on 450 base stations by the start of 2020, while Vodafone has introduced more limited services across a wider range of cities and regions. Germany’s third carrier, Telefonica Deutschland/O2, expects to launch 5G in 2020, while the country’s 5G spectrum auction effectively created a fourth network operator, with MVNO 1&1 Drillisch being granted a spectrum license. Its services are expected to be launched in 2021.
Elsewhere, 5G was up and running in seven other EU countries by the start of this year - Spain, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Czech Republic, Sweden, Estonia and Romania. As of March, Finland, Norway and Austria have been added to that list, while Portugal, France, Denmark, The Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Greece and, outside the EU, Russia, have all confirmed plans to roll out services over the course of the next 12 months.
In the great who-launched-the-first-5G-network debate, much of the slugging has been done by US heavyweight operators Verizon and AT&T. The former claimed a world first in October 2018 with a fixed wireless access (FWA) service,, but it wasn’t based on 3GPP standards; Verizon’s first standards-based bona fide 5G services followed in March 2019, in just two cities. AT&T, meanwhile, did achieve a standards-based 5G launch in a dozen cities in December 2018, but it could only be accessed as a mobile hotspot service for laptops as there weren’t any compatible mobile devices available.
Putting the PR battle over who was first aside, Verizon and AT&T have played their part in putting the US right at the forefront of global 5G deployment. Verizon started selling 5G-compatible Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphones in May 2019 and currently offers ultra-high speed, high capacity millimetre wave services across 34 cities. AT&T boasts mmWave services in 35 cities, plus ‘low band’ (i.e. slower) services in another 80.
However, it could be argued that the freshly merged third US carrier, T-Mobile/Sprint, has achieved a jump on both Verizon and AT&T. While it only offers mmWave services in half-a-dozen cities at present, it has focused its attention on a massive roll-out of sub-600MHz network across 5,000 towns and cities, providing a taste of 5G across the largest geographic expanse yet seen anywhere in the world. In addition, Sprint is the first operator to roll out Massive MIMO - ultra-efficient network technology that tracks users with beam-like signal - in 10 cities.
Elsewhere, other countries in North America are lagging behind the USA’s lead on 5G, although Rogers Wireless unveiled Canada’s first 5G services in March 2020, while America Movil has declared its intention to have 5G up and running in Mexico by the end of 2020.
Asia & Pacific
We’ve already mentioned South Korea’s claim to being the first country in the world to launch commercial 5G services. That was thanks to operator SK Telecom, which switched on its 5G network in April 2019. But not to be outdone, domestic rival Korea Telecom - famous for the 5G demonstration network it had up and running at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang - claims a first of its own, arguing that it is the first operator anywhere in the world to offer ‘nationwide’ coverage on its 5G network.
What is certainly true is that South Korea is well ahead of the curve in terms of 5G deployment. With a third operator, LG Uplus, also now providing 5G services, South Korea has also benefited from high levels of early consumer interest in the new technology - the country reportedly passed one million 5G subscribers in just 69 days. Coverage is undoubtedly impressive and perhaps the best found anywhere in the world at present, with an estimated 85,000 5G base stations deployed already - more than half of them built by South Korean electronics and mobile hardware giant Samsung.
China may have been behind South Korea, the US, UK and Germany in itys 5G launch, but in terms of numbers it is already the biggest 5G market on the planet. That, of course, has something to do with its size - the world’s most populous country is also the world’s biggest mobile market. But the switch to 5G doesn’t happen automatically and what has characterised the 5G journey in China so far is the level of coordination between the big three operators, China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom, plus tech and device specialists like Huawei. That has all been carefully orchestrated by the Chinese government, which seems determined to make the world’s largest nation a 5G nation as quickly as possible.
When China’s three operators launched their 5G services simultaneously in November 2019, the Chinese government declared it the world’s largest 5G network. And with an estimated 130,000 base stations up and running by the start of 2020 across 50 cities, it is hard to argue.
Spearheaded by South Korea and China, GlobalData has forecast that the APAC region will become the world's 5G hotbed, accounting for two-thirds of subscriptions by 2024. In Australia, operators Telstra and Optus have already launched limited 5G services and are expected to step up roll out throughout 2020, along with fellow carrier Vodafone. The Philippines is the only other country in the region with 5G currently available, with carrier Globe Telecom unveiling an FWA service in June 2019. Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand are all expected to follow by the end of 2020.
Africa & Middle East
In the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, early 5G activity has been centred around the Gulf states. The UAE has taken the lead, with operator Etisalat launching the region’s first commercial 5G services in May 2019, followed quickly by domestic rival du. Saudi Arabia’s Zain KSA and Bahrain’s Batelco also have 5G up and running, with fellow GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) nations expected to follow suit throughout 2020.
Elsewhere across the MENA region, the signs are that other domestic markets are likely to focus on cementing 4G LTE services for the first half of this decade at least rather than invest heavily in 5G. Chafic Traboulsi, Head of Networks for Middle East and Africa at Ericsson, has forecast that 5G will account for around 10% of mobile subscriptions in the region by 2025 - globally, Ericsson expects that figure to be around 33%.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, the country at the most advanced stage with its 5G deployments so far is South Africa. This has been spearheaded by pan-African telecommunications enterprise Liquid Telecom, which in January this year launched what it described as “the first 5G wholesale roaming service” in cities across South Africa. A number of companies have already lined up to launch commercial 5G services on Liquid’s network, including Vodacom, which claimed Africa’s first standards-based 5G launch with a limited industrial service in neighbouring Lesotho in 2018, and Internet Solutions, which is looking to offer a 5G broadband service as an alternative to fibre. Data-only mobile operator Rain has also launched a 5G FWA service on its own network in two South African cities.
Elsewhere on the continent, Kenya looks next in line to switch on 5G commercial services, with a launch from mobile operator Safaricom expected imminently. Countries including Nigeria and Uganda have been actively trialling the technology and could see roll out in 2020.
As things stand, Latin America remains the region that has seen least progress towards 5G to date. Things could, however, be about to accelerate rapidly, with America Movil, a major player in mobile services throughout the region, announcing in February its intentions to invest $8.5bn in infrastructure upgrades this year, focusing on Mexico, Brazil and Columbia. While it expects to have 5G services up and running in Mexico this year, the company states that its plans for Brazil are still dependent on the outcome of spectrum auctions. The company already has a commercial 5G network up and running in Europe through its subsidiary Telekom Austria.