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(Bloomberg) — Fifth-generation networking hype has been in full force since Qualcomm Inc. declared “5G is here, and it’s time to celebrate” in February of last year. The reality, however, has required patience from consumers due to the time needed to roll out the new networks and the dearth of applications to put speed to compelling use.

Source: We Tested 5G Networks Across Asian Cities. The Verdict: Patchy

The message at last February’s Mobile World Congress, the phone industry’s annual gathering, was that 5G is ready.

The technology was working then. It still is. There is a lot more 5G around the world than last year. Dozens of carriers have launched networks. This includes Vodafone in New Zealand.

5G is not about consumers

Bloomberg’s report makes clear there is a gap between reality and consumer expectations.

To get acceptance of 5G, carriers need to sell the idea to consumers. They promised consumers faster speeds on mobile handsets. Up to a point they delivered, although as Bloomberg points out, delivery is patchy.

The truth is that 5G is not and never was about the consumer experience. It is all about enterprise and industrial applications. Engineers optimised 5G for communications between machines, not person-to-person calling.

A voice call on a 5G phone is no different from a voice call on a 4G network. Video streaming works fine on a 4G connection. There are no obvious mobile consumer applications that must have faster data.

The only 5G consumer user case anyone talks about is mobile games with lower latency.  Gaming is a big and important business. Yet carriers did not invest billions so commuters can shoot aliens faster while sitting on a bus.

The world wasn’t waiting for faster mobile phone data

A lack of must-have consumer apps explains why phone makers didn’t race to get 5G models to market. Yes, people will want to buy phones that can make use of the faster speeds. But they are not going to go out at midnight and queue around the block for the privilege of getting them first.

Wonderful things happen when mobile devices and sensors communicate at fibre-like speeds. No doubt 5G will transform many aspects of life. Everything imaginable will connect and either report back or act on the result of data.

Like an iceberg looming in front of a giant transatlantic steamer, the part of 5G that matters most is out of sight. It will have the biggest impact. The technology was always going to underwhelm consumers. It’s not for them. Let’s stop pretending otherwise. There is a better story to tell.

6 thoughts on “Bloomberg on patchy 5G networks

  1. The only 5G consumer user case anyone talks about is mobile games with lower latency. Gaming is a big and important business. Yet carriers did not invest billions so commuters can shoot aliens faster while sitting on a bus.

    IMO, if it wasn’t for the games that consumers wanted PCs wouldn’t have advanced as fast as they did. Sure, businesses wanted faster, more powerful, machines but they simply didn’t have the economies of scale to pay for them. The consumers, on the other hand, did.

    Same applies to 5G. Business may want it but they don’t have the economies of scale to pay for it. Consumers have the ability to pay for it but there’s no reason for them to do so.

    If business wants 5G to take off then they need to make it worthwhile for the public to pay for it.

  2. As I’ve said before, Bill:

    Businesses that need wirelessly connected sensors have lots of options besides 5G, most of which work over longer ranges than 5G and are cheap, reliable, and/or private.

    Industrial sensors don’t need extreme bandwidth or millisecond latency either. (If they do, the compute node will be right next to the sensor, connected by far-more-reliable wires.)

    You may be right that eventually uses will be found for 5G, uses that were not possible with 4G. But if it’s like other industrial transitions such as from stationary steam engines to electric motors, or from messenger boys to telephone, the transition will take twenty to forty years.

    So I think this iceberg has no ice under the water. It’s a plastic bag full of air floating on the sea surface. I’m keen to be proven wrong, but so far it looks like blockchain: an elaborate, fragile solution to a problem that nobody has.

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