Why it’s way too early to declare a winner in Canada’s 5G wars
It will eventually allow for dramatically lower latency, faster data speeds, and many more devices to be connected to wireless networks.
Proponents say these improvements are dramatic enough that they will enable radically new devices and business models, such as augmented reality headsets and autonomous vehicles.
Throughout the deployment, consumers will see steadily increasing speeds and other service improvements, but the more-hyped benefits will only be possible once all the pieces fall in place years from now.
But for now, the Rogers 5G network shares the same back-end as the 4G network, and it’ll be a year or more before those upgrades allow further service improvements.
In fact, despite Rogers’ first-mover advantage, in a research note to investors last year BMO equity analysts Tim Casey and Nicholas Kim said Bell is potentially in a stronger position because the company has the most fibre-optic cable deployed in Canada, which will be critical for 5G.
The BMO paper also noted there are bottlenecks for deployment, first because the Canadian government won’t even auction the high-band millimetre-wave spectrum until 2021, and then permitting issues will slow the deployment of small cell antennas to blanket cities in coverage.
Currently there are about 30,000 large cell towers in the country, but to achieve full deployment, telcos are likely to require roughly 250,000 cell antennas because the high-capacity millimetre-wave frequency doesn’t travel nearly as far.
“I currently don’t look at any of the Big Three as having a meaningful advantage over any of the others in wireless or in the race for 5G,” said Matthew Dolgin, equity analyst for Morningstar.
“I expect they’ll all end up with equally good 5G networks by the time most consumers are ready for and demand it. A Huawei decision is important for Telus and Bell, but I don’t think either will let it materially harm the timing of their rollouts.”
I currently don’t look at any of the Big Three as having a meaningful advantage over any of the others in wireless or in the race for 5G
Matthew Dolgin, equity analyst for Morningstar
Aside from a bit of marketing hype, Gartner infrastructure and communications analyst Bill Menezes was skeptical that Rogers’ drive to be first out of the gate will matter in the long run.
“I mean, in order for it to be meaningful, you would have to determine there is a material part of the market that says if they don’t have 5G I’m moving my service to Rogers,” Menezes said.
“I don’t believe that that probably exists.”
Menezes said he expects the hype to continue throughout the year, as major cellphone manufacturers including Apple Inc. are expected to release flagship 5G devices.
But while those devices will basically just be a faster version of 4G, the real reason for the excitement surrounding 5G are the new technologies and new kinds of devices that will eventually come with it.
That likely won’t happen until around 2025 or so, according to Lawrence Surtees, an analyst who covers telco issues for IDC Research. In fact, Surtees said many of the details still haven’t been fully hammered out.
“The international standards for 5G are many and varied, and all the pieces have not been fully worked out yet, and the deadline for that is later near the end of 2020,” Surtees said.
“The real promise and significance of 5G relates to this underlying architecture, and we’re not going to see the ability and promise of that until it’s all in place.”