RECAP: 5G – Sooner Than You Think

Author: Derek Kerton, Managing Partner at Kerton Group and Chairman of Telecom Council

DSC_0097Our 5G meeting, hosted by Qualcomm, was an optimistic view of 5G, and it’s many parts. The unpanel format discussion took the best information from all 60 attendees, as well as our esteemed panel. Almost the entire group agreed that 5G is on track, and is a promising technology, while the naysayers are mostly critical because of a lack of clarity as to what 5G actually is. The confusion is caused by the fact that 5G is, essentially, a roll-up “G” for all the use cases and needs expressed by industry, consumers, and telecom over the past few “Gs”.

  • more spectrum flexibility
  • more spectral efficiency
    • faster communications to each user
    • more capacity in each cell
  • better low-power, long range performance for IoT
  • better cost structure for IoT, lower per unit pricing
  • lower latency for future applications
  • support digital transformation of telecoms, end to end
  • support virtualization, software defined networks

It is because of this wide ranging wish list that many people don’t know exactly what 5G is. But it is, quite impressively, all of these things.

Now, because of the wide range of benefits of 5G, it is also true that they do not all arrive at the same time. Some of these improvements will be seen in the latter implementations of 4G LTE technologies

The room discussed the “5G” announcements of Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mo, and the varying degrees of truth to each one. Consensus was that T-Mo is building the most fully-5G network, and that this is because they won the needed spectrum at 600MHz, because spectrum availability is what limits or drives 5G progress in developed markets. While AT&T’s 5G is mostly spin, the carrier itself has basically acknowledged that they are using it as a marketing term, because to individual users, the speed will seem like 5G. Verizon, on the other hand, is launching a 5G network that only works for stationary, fixed radios. While this may earn taunts from T-Mo, the reality is that Verizon is doing so early, and the lessons learned in this network will be very useful for the 3GPP as some of the earliest market tests of 5G.

As for the use cases of 5G, it seems like every carrier and analyst is asking: “5G has low latency, so what will be the killer use cases of 5G networks.” But, according to our panel, and Joe Madden, Principal Analyst at Mobile Experts, the bulk of the users of 5G networks will be the same as the bulk of users of 4G networks: Mobile broadband subscriptions from smartphones. This will drive the lion’s share of the data, the lion’s share of the revenue, and the main payload will be video. We observed that, as an industry, we are spending an inordinate amount of time looking for the corner cases, when we should be driven by the main use case. That said, corner cases are interesting because they represent the key areas of subscriber growth, and new business. We discussed:

  • The connected car as a big new target for 5G
  • IoT, but with its specific needs for low battery use, long range, and low price
  • VR/AR, but with an unclear adoption rate
  • The fact that the biggest new uses are probably not even the ones we’re thinking about

All in all, we seldom have a panel that solves all the issues, and answers all the questions, but our 5G panel came about as close as we ever have. The tech is real, it is useful, it makes economic sense, it solves untapped business needs, and it IS coming soon.

 

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