We can all agree 2020 left the market with many questions for 5G. One question is how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the progress of 5G, if at all. A recent Verizon report demonstrates that business technology decisionmakers are more confident in 5G and poised to take advantage of it than ever before. Another new report, this one from Spirent Communications, suggests 5G’s future has “never been brighter.” Are these invested companies contributing to the 5G hype cycle, or are they just calling it like it is?

Spirent, a provider of test, assurance, and analytics solutions for next-generation devices and networks, studied 600 global 5G engagements in 2020 for its Spirent 2021 5G Report. The report submits that more than 140 5G networks launched in 2020, and the year ended with more than 300 commercially available 5G devices. What’s more, Spirent suggests there’s a sense of urgency surrounding 5G that’s continuing to drive progress, even during an economic recession and public health crisis. Have networks finally begun to deliver on the promises they’ve made surrounding 5G?

Here’s a snapshot of what Spirent’s data says. The research suggests in 2020, service providers accelerated their timetables for delivering 5G SA (standalone) core deployments. Spirent also says operators are turning to partners to help them keep up with these accelerated timetables. The report also points to new 5G initiatives as proof of the sector’s positive growth, including engagements with government, military, and academia looking to experiment with 5G. For instance, the U.S. Dept. of Defense announced it will build on its five existing installations with seven additional 5G communications testbeds to explore opportunities for military applications.

Spirent believes the accelerated timetables are here to stay. The COVID-19 pandemic sped trends such as remote work up by several years. And while there were some 5G delays, particularly in Europe, companies like Verizon were clear that they would not back down on 5G, even in the face of the pandemic.

5G wireless mobile services were widely expected to commercialize in 2020, delivering on promises of a wide range of use cases and business models to consumers. According to research published by Grand View Research after the pandemic hit, the global 5G services market size was estimated to reach $41.48 billion in 2020 and expand by a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 43.9% between 2021 and 2027. In healthcare, energy and utilities, transportation, and logistics, the need for next-gen 5G technologies has not diminished. In fact, it has increased.

At the end of last year, IHS Markit analysts estimated that the net contribution of 5G to the global GDP through 2035 will equal about $2.3 trillion, suggesting that 5G will make a significant economic contribution worldwide. Indeed, operators seem poised to expand their 5G footprints aggressively in the coming years—and whether 2020 was a true roadblock or just a glitch in the code, it won’t ultimately hold 5G back. If anything, the pandemic showed industries and operators how incredibly valuable fast speeds and low latency can be in a world that depends on remote work and automation for unlocking maximum productivity.

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