As many as a quarter of global mobile users will have access to high-band 5G by the end of 2030, according to the latest reports citing research from McKinsey Global Institute. Despite the seemingly low coverage area, that figure comes with a massive estimated cost of between $700 billion to $900 billion for the build-out.
High-band 5G, utilizing millimeter wave spectrum, comes with the added benefit of delivering much higher speeds. But that coverage won't necessarily be evenly spread either. Because of the penetration and range limitations of the frequencies, urban residents will see the most impact. Those users will account for as much as 80-percent of high-band 5G rollouts.
That's highlighted by the present state of 5G in the US, one of several nations rolling out 5G more rapidly. On the global scale, that 5G could hit as many as 55-percent of the populations of the US, China, South Korea, and Japan by 2030. In the US, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have rolled out limited 5G networks using the millimeter-wave spectrum chiefly in cities and neighborhoods.
What about 5G for everybody else on the global scale?
McKinsey Global Institute's prediction leaves the overwhelming majority of users in each 5G region without access to the highest speeds. That's hardly surprising given the limitations. But carriers also face the expected costs outlined above. As a result, the focus is on the improved range and lower cost of mid and low-band spectrum for 5G.
The cost-benefit for carriers is that those bands of 5G can be built out primarily on existing 4G infrastructure. Only moderate modifications, and in some cases software updates, are required.
In the US, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint occupy those bands. The former two companies launched their low-band networks in 2019. Sprint has utilized its advantage in the mid-range, with the company leading the way in terms of licensing 2.5 GHz spectrum.
For the country, the result should be nationwide coverage for users this year. That's carried over for other nations to an extent. As many as 80% of the global population will be covered by lower bands of 5G by 2030. That comes at a more manageable cost of between $400 billion and $500 billion. But that also comes with some fairly significant caveats.
What does this mean for end-users?
The biggest drawback for 5G built on the lower frequency spectrum is the comparative reduction in speed.
While 5G on the millimeter spectrum offers speeds well over 1Gbps, those bands perform more closely to advanced 4G LTE. There are some benefits in terms of overall bandwidth, allowing more users and use cases to be served simultaneously. It also still enables a much lower latency over 4G LTE.
That won't necessarily have a major negative connotation, although it does mean mobile users outside of the cities won't achieve the same speeds.
The McKinsey report does include several examples of the most prominent uses of 5G outside of mobile networks though. Those are improved vehicle safety and traffic flow, remote patient monitoring and automation, and more efficient inventory management and warehouse operations. In each case, millimeter-wave 5G will undoubtedly show a bigger impact.
The same holds for automated vehicles and other smart city infrastructure and that has several implications. Carriers will launch most of their high-band 5G in urban areas. Those areas are arguably where the highest speeds will best serve those purposes.