Mobile carriers, network operators, and analysts warn that the COVID-19 pandemic could cause disruption in the introduction of 5G networks.
The warnings came as corporations announced their quarterly results in which they explained what impact on their bottom lines the global crisis may have. The full effect of the pandemic will not be understood until the June numbers are in, but the US 5G rollout seems to be in better shape than Europe right now, with China’s launch apparently on track.
Concerns about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on 5G network rollouts aren’t fresh. After all, Huawei cautioned that the European rollout of 5G would “surely be postponed” back in March, although it said the impact in the UK will not be as important.
In a number of European countries, including Portugal, Austria, Spain, France, and the Czech Republic, we have also seen delayed 5G spectrum auctions. But as more companies comment on the pandemic, its overall impact is beginning to become more obvious.
Companies across the 5G spectrum are now alert of any possible delays. For example, Samsung said that “investments in 5G networks will be reduced or delayed domestically and globally as further COVID-19 effects unfold.” Meanwhile, two of the three major network providers alongside Huawei, Ericsson, and Nokia warned of delays as well.
“COVID-19 and measures taken by governments to slow the spread make our service delivery and supply more difficult because of lockdowns and travel restrictions in many countries,” said Börje Ekholm, CEO of Ericsson, while Rajeev Suri, CEO of Nokia, told CNBC that there may be “few delays” in Europe.
However, the impact magnitude is likely to differ by area. Although most businesses accept that the 5G deployment in Europe is likely to experience delays, other regions are more hostile. “In response to the pandemic we see a number of countries actually speeding up investment in 5G and 4G capacity,” Ericsson’s Ekholm said, before citing China as an example. Counterpoint Research also stated that 5G growth in China “remains as expected.”
Is The US 5G launch disrupted too?
The US 5G launch plan also appears, for now, to be more or less on time. Qualcomm’s president Christiano Amon acknowledged that there had been “minor delays” in 5G launches in some countries, but “in the United States, some networks are still ahead of scheduling the build-out, taking advantage of potentially less traffic.”
Verizon shared this optimism, saying that given the difficulties posed by the pandemic, it is still on track for its 5G launch. AT&T cautioned that “logistical problems” beyond its control could limit the company’s spending on 5G, but was unclear as to the precise effect this may have on its rollout. T-Mobile has yet to disclose its quarterly income;
But it revealed recently that it is taking the first steps to integrate its 5G network with Sprint’s after the merger was formally concluded last month.
However, in the end, the pandemic’s maximum effect is still uncertain. It’s uncertain when European spectrum auctions can actually go ahead, or when policymakers can remove the restrictions that hinder the implementation of physical infrastructure. And with the economic turmoil created by the crisis and people sequestered at home, it’s no wonder that no one can completely commit to rollout plans made prior to the crisis struck.