What are the objectives behind the GSMA 5G Connectivity Index?

At the end of 2023, there were more than 1.5 billion 5G connections worldwide which, given that it launched in 2019, makes it the fastest-growing mobile technology to date. We've seen many policymakers, governments, and industry players making their best efforts to launch and drive 5G forward.

As a result, GSMA Intelligence has recently introduced the 5G Connectivity Index with the objective of providing policymakers, governments, the mobile industry, and the wider ecosystem with a tool to track 5G development in each of their respective markets. In this interview with Kalvin Bahia, Senior Director of Economics at GSMA Intelligence, we asked about the purpose of publishing the index and what the 5G index (5GI) means for the industry.

According to Bahia, the GSMA felt an index was necessary to account for the many different aspects of 5G, including coverage, the use of 5G services, affordability, and the consumer experience. The objective of designing and building the 5G Index was to bring all of those together.

Bahia said that policymakers and regulators can use the index to track 5G development in their respective countries, highlighting two things in particular. Firstly, they can see how 5G is developing and performing in their markets compared to others. And secondly, because the 5GI encompasses so many different elements of 5G, they can use the index to focus on the things that require particular investment or policy focus. For example, it could be that 5G coverage in a country is very high, but maybe the adoption of 5G is limited, or perhaps the use of consumer 5G is quite high, but 5G FWA (fixed wireless access) services are more limited. Therefore, the 5GI does not only allow policymakers to track 5G development but it can also allow them to focus on where the bottlenecks are and highlight the areas in which they really need to improve.

Bahia explained that a number of key findings came out of the 5GI study, notably that across all countries where 5G has been deployed, it is resulting in a much better consumer experience than previous generations. If you look at the countries in the index, 5G is delivering speeds that are more than 10 times faster than 4G, often due to the assignment of new spectrum bands. “We are also seeing 5G becoming more affordable, both for 5G data plans and devices, which is really important if we're going to achieve the objective of making 5G accessible for everyone,” said Bahia. “For example, if you look at emerging countries, the majority of 5G devices being sold are less than $250.” Another key finding from the 5G index is that the adoption of 5G FWA services is a growing and important use case.

There are a number of countries, such as Australia, Germany, Kuwait and the US, where there has been significant provision of high-speed 5G fixed services to those that are underserved by other fixed services like fibre and cable. “So those are what I would characterise as the positive developments from the 5G Index. I would, however, flag that if you look at the 5G index performance across countries, there's room for improvement pretty much across the board,” said Bahia. The index scores are marked out of 100 and at 68, Kuwait is the highest-scoring country. Most countries score less than 50, so in every country, there are at least three or four areas open to improvement.

The main reason why almost all countries still have room for improvement is that 5G is an evolution, and we are very much in the first stages of that evolutionary process. There are many potential 5G use cases that could drive more usage. For example, on the consumer side, artificial reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) use cases are still very nascent and in their early stages of development. Going forward, if those use cases expand, we'll see improvements in the 5G index.

Another key use case expected of 5G is the transformation of connectivity among businesses. There have been some early examples of that, China being a notable one, but in many countries, the business-to-business (B2B) segment is also still quite limited. Growing that segment is an area where many countries can improve.

“If we think about how to maximise the benefits of 5G, I'd highlight two parts in particular. One is 5G standalone, which is required to realise the full benefits of 5G.. In the 5G Index, no operators have launched 5G standalone in 17 countries. So that's going to be important going forward. And the other part I'd highlight is 5G-Advanced or what some call 5.5G. This is also going to enable some of the faster and more enhanced use cases that I've mentioned before, for example, on the B2B segment. And as those things are deployed in the coming years, I think we should definitely see some improved performance across the board in the 5G index,” said Bahia.

The 5GI highlights the requirement of driving and deploying 5G standalone, deploying 5G advanced services, and delivering some of these newer use cases for consumers and businesses. These all share the requirement for device support within the broader ecosystem, but that requires increased investment. Another aspect for operators is to try to achieve greater monetisation of 5G services. Bahia concluded, “What really underpins all of this is enabling a policy and regulatory framework… This encompasses several things, but it includes, for example, enabling small cell deployment, streamlining backhaul, ensuring that operators have access to sufficient and affordable spectrum given the increased data requirements, and also having a competition framework that drives dynamic competition and benefits to consumers. So, all of those things need to be brought together if we're to realise the full benefits of the new 5G use cases.”

Related Content: GSMA launches its 5G Connectivity Index

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