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2020 was supposed to be the year of 5G, but a certain virus had other plans

In many ways, 2020 was supposed to be the year of 5G. Then, COVID-19 happened, and most plans had to be put on hold.

2020 has not been an ordinary year by any metric conceivable by the human mind Amidst the myriad plights of the year, 5G became an afterthought for many However, it's important to note that progress in the field only slowed - not halted entirely - as many advancements that will support the new network standard took place this year

In many ways, 2020 was supposed to be the year of 5G. Unlike most innovations, the new cellular network standard was being drummed up by executives, experts and entrepreneurs big and small. It had widespread applications, with the ability to transform not only telecom, but also healthcare, transportation, banking, and much, much more. 

Then, COVID-19 happened, and most of those plans had to be put on hold.

2020 has not been an ordinary year by any metric conceivable by the human mind. This is the year that made remote working the standard, mask-wearing legally acceptable, and e-learning a necessity. And, of course, it brought us the novel coronavirus, a kind of world-altering event that humanity experiences so rarely. 

Amidst all this, 5G became an afterthought for many. When swathes of countries were enforcing lockdowns and shutting borders, there was only so much the technology could advance. That’s not to mention the financial stress many companies had to brace, forcing them to lay off millions of employees across the world, a circumstance that likely – and inadvertently – slowed down 5G development and deployment. 

It’s important to note that progress in the field only slowed – not halted entirely – as many advancements that will support the new network standard took place this year.

Deployment of 5G, for example, proceeded at a slowed but notable pace. 

Read: The 5 stages of of an organization’s 5G maturity: How does your company rank?

5G deployment and speeds in the GCC

“The number of countries with 5G deployments increased 62.3% between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020, with 99 countries having 5G deployments at the end of Q3 2020, according to recent data by the mobile phone performance testing firm Ookla. There were 14,643 cities worldwide with 5G deployments at the end of Q3 2020, a 1,671% increase over Q3 2019. The total number of deployments worldwide was 17,046. The counts here and throughout this section include commercially available 5G as well as 5G networks with limited availability and those in pre-release, the tech firm noted. 

Worthy of note is that the UAE topped the list of countries with the fastest top 10% 5G download speed in Q3 2020. Saudi Arabia was second for top 10% 5G download speed, Norway third, Spain fourth and Japan fifth.

Image: Ookla

Additionally, Abu Dhabi came in first in terms of median download speed over 5G, beating 17 other world capital cities surveyed during Q3 2020. The Emirate clocked in a median download speed of 546.81 Mbps. Riyadh was second worldwide, followed by Madrid in third place, Seoul in fourth, and Kuwait City fifth. So, in the GCC at least, 5G deployment and speeds were world-class in 2020. 

Read: Saudi companies are leading the adoption of 5G for digital transformation

5G becomes the next big thing in the smartphone market

While the average consumer had heard of 5G by the start of 2020, they had been convinced to demand the new standard from new devices by the tail end of the year. This was helped primarily by the iPhone 12, which to date is the best-selling 5G smartphone device, according to data by Counterpoint Research (CR).

“There is a large pent-up demand for [a] 5G upgrade, especially within the iOS base, which is now getting converted into sales,” the research firm said. “This was complemented by strong carrier promos, especially in the US, which accounted for over one-third of the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro sales for the month. China and Japan also saw strong initial demand for the iPhone 12 series. Compared to most of the other 5G models, which have a regional presence, the iPhone 12 has a wider market coverage – it is available in over 140 countries, thus helping sales.”

Image: Counterpoint Research

CR believes that “through the iPhone 12 series, Apple has also given a much-needed push to the 5G smartphone market,” which will likely drive further demand in Q4 2020 and beyond. 

As far as the 5G smartphone market goes, the only way to go is up at this point. 

Read: With innovation slowing down, smartphones desperately need 5G

Final takeaways

So, we can gather that while the year could’ve finally served as the launchpad 5G desperately needed, it did serve as a respectable start for technology during such a troubled period of human history. 

Moving forward, the biggest players in the field will need to address the issues posing hurdles for deployment and consumer demand. Considering the myriad deals OEMs and other big players have signed this year, we can expect a similar improvement across the sector starting in 2021, especially once vaccines become widely available and life returns to a semblance of normal.