A new report released by EJL Wireless Research says shipments of digital baseband units (BBU) declined 23 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, the first decline in six years. The report forecasts net BBU shipment growth of 11 percent in 2019, consisting of a modest 6 percent for LTE BBU shipments and, not surprising, greater than a 10x increase for 5G NR BBU shipments. However, the view is that 2020 will be flat in unit volume: declining LTE BBU shipments offset by increased 5G NR BBUs.

Earl Lum, EJL Wireless Research founder and president, sees China as the main driver for 5G NR shipments in 2019, followed by South Korea, Japan and the U.S. Europe will begin initial deployments. Despite the U.S. ban on exporting products to Huawei, Lum does not see any impact to the expansion of 5G commercial trials for China Mobile this year.

“Regarding massive MIMO 64T, 64R for 5G NR below 6 GHz, besides China we do not see widespread adoption for this configuration and believe that Europe will focus more on 8 x 8 MIMO using traditional 8T, 8R RRUs and passive antennas and using the massive MIMO 64T, 64R solution in a more surgical role.” — Earl Lum

Lum attributed the BBU decline in 2018 to network software upgrades for LTE-Advanced and NB-IoT services and, in Europe, preparation for 5G spectrum auctions.

“The last downturn was in 2011; however, the decline in 2018 was 23 percent compared with the 12 percent drop back then. — Earl Lum

5G BBU shipments reached a 2 percent share in 2018, reflecting initial deployments in the U.S., South Korea and China. Lum’s data shows Huawei regained its top position for BBU shipments in 2018, narrowly beating Ericsson, and was the clear leader in 5G NR. Of the 5G NR shipments, Samsung came in second, propelled by the demand in South Korea.

The 15th edition of Lum’s annual report, “Global Macrocell Baseband Unit Market Analysis and Forecast, 2019-2023 15th Edition,” is available from EJL Wireless Research.