(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.
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 networks 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.