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Spirent reveals 5 trends shaping 5G’s future in 2021

Spirent 5G report 2021.
(Image credit: Spirent.)

Spirent Communications, the leading testing and analytics company for mobile devices and networks, has released its second annual 5G outlook report, based on analysis and takeaways from over 600 global 5G engagements in 2020. 

The ‘5G 2021: Market Drivers, Insights & Consideration’ report provides insights from across the 5G eco-system on the current status of 5G, and one area that draws particular focus is a look ahead to what the main 5G trends will be in 2021.

“Telecom is keeping its sights firmly focused on 5G’s future, not in spite of the challenges of the pandemic, but because of them."

Steve Douglas, Spirent.

“2020 was certainly a year to remember, not just because of the unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19, but also because of the rapid development for the telecom industry,” said Spirent head of 5G strategy, Steve Douglas. “Telecom is keeping its sights firmly focused on 5G’s future, not in spite of the challenges of the pandemic, but because of them, and our latest report gives an unparalleled view of the current status of 5G and the trends we’re seeing for the year ahead, based on the investments, research, testing and innovation by the leading 5G players.”

Below we’ve summarised the five key trends that Spirent believes will drive the 5G industry over the coming year.

1 The coming wave of construction

“In some APAC countries, this work has already begun with hundreds of thousands of 5G base stations deployed, greatly exceeding initial targets. 2021 will see more of the world aggressively catch up in pursuit of national 5G coverage. This work will continue for many years as tens of millions of base stations are commissioned globally. By Q4 2020, China had built nearly 700,000 5G sites [source: GSMA Intelligence].”

2. 5G SA is accelerating, but with training wheels

“The volume and type of 5G core testing Spirent conducted during 2020 indicates a continued acceleration toward Standalone (SA) 5G in North America and China, as we identified in our last report. These networks will launch alongside NonStandalone (NSA) networks, but expect limited access until operators grow more comfortable managing and supporting the new core.”

3. Spectrum is in high demand, and everyone wants a piece

"Notably, private industry is eager to carve out a piece of its own 5G spectrum, with national regulators beginning to dedicate spectrum exclusively for this purpose.”

Spirent 5G report.

“We won’t have a true picture of how the 5G market will shake out until the dust settles on the flurry of spectrum auctions taking place globally. Low-band, mid-band, high-band, c-band – you name it, it’s all in high demand. The volume of testing we’re seeing across multiple frequency ranges and validation of new RAN capabilities like Dynamic Spectrum Sharing in a range of geographies suggests high interest in spectrum auctions and availability to support geographic coverage. Notably, private industry is eager to carve out a piece of its own 5G spectrum, with national regulators beginning to dedicate spectrum exclusively for this purpose.”

4. O-RAN just the tip of the iceberg

"All use cases are on the table, as more and more muscle is put behind this effort, with the goal of rapidly proving Open RAN’s robustness."

Spirent 5G report.

“Open RAN shows potential to become telecom’s low-cost, vendor-neutral future. It can serve as an efficient architecture for 2G and 4G deployments. All use cases are on the table, as more and more muscle is put behind this effort, with the goal of rapidly proving Open RAN’s robustness. But first, expect to see a focus on legacy network densification for rural coverage, with 5G Open RAN deployments still years off. The market for Open RAN solutions will grow to more than $11B by 2026 [source: Appledore Research].”

5. Automation will advance agility

“During 2021, we anticipate tier-one operators will focus on vendor-neutral, continuous testing environments that provide an automated CI/CD pipeline process to manage multi-vendor ecosystems and continuous releases. Expect this to eventually become the norm for agile management of developing initiatives, like Open RAN.”

To read the full list of 10 industry trends in the Spirent report, you can download the PDF here.

Dan is a British journalist with 20 years of experience in the design and tech sectors, producing content for the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, Dell and The Sunday Times. In 2012 he helped launch the world's number one design blog, Creative Bloq. Dan is now editor-in-chief at 5Gradar, where he oversees news, insight and reviews, providing an invaluable resource for anyone looking to stay up-to-date with the key issues facing 5G.