China's 5G dream
While developed countries all have 5G on their schedules, China is going all in. China Mobile, the country's largest mobile operator, set up a site in 2017 using a 10-kilometer stretch of road in Beijing's Fangshan District, outfitting the area with 5G cell towers and sensors to test wireless communications between self-driving cars and their surroundings. The telecom giant also conducted similar tests in other major cities, like Shanghai and Guangzhou.
The timeline for widespread 5G adoption may vary according to each country, but China has the incentive to make the transition. This was seen with 4G in the country, leaping from eight percent penetration of 1.29 billion mobile connections in 2014 to 70 percent of 1.39 billion such connections in 2017. This rate of adoption, calculated by the global trade body for mobile operators GSMA, provides a glimpse of the expansive market in the country.
Such numbers are also encouraging for those deliberating on investing in new infrastructure to support 5G. The U.S. and Japan could be slower to adopt the standard because they have to upgrade or replace their extensive 4G cell sites, along with competing alternatives such as wired Internet access at comparable speeds.
Meanwhile, China has government support through subsidies and the regulatory will for a quicker, more widespread rollout. It also has numerous rural regions with little or no wired access to the Internet, so new 5G infrastructure would play a vital role in delivering speed along with convenience to those populations.
All of these figures would be hot air, however, without consumer applications and widespread adoption of phones with 5G in the near future. So regardless of whether the new smartphone models this year have the capability or not, the infrastructure and ecosystem will determine how quickly we enter this new digital era.