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The first standards-based 5G networks have gone live with commercial service offerings. The reviews, however, have been less than flattering. A web search of reviews shows such common themes as patchy coverage, speeds are fast but not 10 times faster than LTE, the device has a hard time holding onto the 5G signal, and few devices are available. If this were 2009 instead of 2019, you would be finding the same things said about LTE. The question is: Why?

The reason is that 5G, like any mobile standard, is not a singular thing. It is a series of network technologies that will take years to fully develop, mature, and become commercial. What operators are currently basing their 5G services on represents just the first part of 3GPP Release 15. We do not have the full 3GPP Release 15 or any Release 16 additions in commercial use yet. Most likely there will be other capabilities, such as massive Internet of Things (IoT), added to the standard in release cycles beyond 16. Until at least Release 16 solutions become commercial, operators will be hard pressed to offer anything with 5G other than faster data services.

Today's early 5G networks should be looked at as beta tests. Vendors and operators are still learning how the technology works, how to deploy it, and how to manage it. Those things need to take place before 5G can be considered mature. That won't happen until after 2020, when solutions based on all of Release 15 and 16 are commercially available, and operators and vendors have more real-world experience with 5G.

There is a tendency to want to pick market winners and losers. However, with 5G, the market's current immaturity makes that impractical. There is not enough out there to judge vendors and operators by. Some vendors may currently have an advantage because of operator relations in the first markets to deploy. Those vendors may focus all their efforts to meet some regional variant of 5G to satisfy an aggressive operator's need to be "first." Other vendors may focus their initial development work on markets that won't develop for another 6–12 months. Just as with 3G and 4G, some vendors may start off strong only to fade as the market matures, while other vendors that were initially seen as behind in the development cycle go on to be more dominant suppliers.

The bottom line is saying commercial 5G networks are now here should not be confused with 5G's being completely developed and mature. We have years before that happens. There remains much work needed on 5G standards and technology maturity before one can begin to judge the success of 5G services, its operators, and its suppliers.

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