5G network standards are finalised, so when will we see the first network?

At a conference with over 600 delegates in La Jolla, California, 3GPP (a senior group formed of telecom standards associations worldwide) have at last signed off on a final set of specifications for 5G networks. Work to implement these networks can now start in earnest. Neil J. McCrae, chief architect at BT, commented: “This step provides the crucial foundation to enable the power of 5G”.

Where previous plans surrounding 5G had been a statement of intent rather than a vision of reality, these standards demonstrate how the high speeds and low latencies promised by 5G can actually be implemented in new networks. The Chairman of the 3GPP, Georg Mayer, explained at the conference: “Two years ago, 5G was seen as a vision or even just a hype – with the closing of Rel-15 3GPP has made 5G a reality within a very short time.”

The telecoms industry have welcomed the new standards, with companies worldwide issuing public statements announcing their plans to turn the final standards into real networks. AT&T announced that the new standard “paves the way for our commercial 5G launch in a dozen cities later this year”, while Huawei have said that they will now “promote the implementation of 5G commercial deployment and health industry ecosystem worldwide”.

Although the 5G standard has motivated industry to start implementation, the question remains as to how long we will have to wait for the first 5G networks to actually appear. 3GPP’s finalisation of the 5G industry standard is in line with the timeline laid out in 2016 according to IMT-2020. If we can keep trusting that timeline, we should expect the first functioning fully 5G networks appearing towards the end of 2019, with more appearing at the end of 2020.


While it will take time to build, design, and implement 5G networks, these prospective dates already seem in line with industry’s expectations. LG Uplus and Vivo have announced that they will have 5G networks and phones in place in 2019, while KDDI and Unisoc intend to have 5G ready in 2020. While 5G in place this year might be overly optimistic, industry across the board seems confident that 5G will be reality from 2020.



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