The race to 5G is over. How do I know? CTIA took down their, never-ending, (yawn), infographic detailing the metrics of what was at stake if we lost. Did we win? If you believe AT&T, yes. But, is it 5G? 5GE? Or 5G+ where we won. Hmmm… I get sooo confused.
Well, I have had my fun ridiculing the race to 5G, and the 5G hype, in general. It seems now, that everybody has a smattering of early 5G hotspots out there, we can hang up the gloves, call the race and its associated hype moot, and move on to what will be the potential of 5G.
One thing for sure, this early dotting of 5G will be nothing more than a public test. Do not expect miracles. Latency and speed will certainly improve, but not much beyond what 4G-A can do. Moreover, the improvements will only be limited to constrained, geographic areas where some 5G has been rolled out (once phones become available).
But at least the industry can say we have 5G. This will give them a bit of a breather to work on the real 5G – the 5G that has been promising to be everything to everybody. That 5G, with twenty, or more, times the speeds and one-twentieth of the latency is still years down the road.
However, the hardware will come. The real focus by all segments of the industry is monetizing it; i.e. vertical apps.
One app I have talked about often is fixed wireless (do not worry it is only a mention here). However, there are others. They will, of course, require some of that extra bandwidth and lower latency. So do not expect them to appear for a bit, either.
Another vertical app, that has a slew of potential, is content. Things like 4K and up video and less than 10-second movie downloads. Virtual everything is another burgeoning vertical for 5G, as are autonomous vehicles. I can go on but one gets the picture. The issue is how long will it take to roll out a real 5G ecosystem, which can deliver the kind of performance everyone is promising. Following that is the type of content that needs 5G. Neither of those is right around the corner.
Content is, definitely, at the top of the list. Content will do well with the end of buffering. I get buffered content all the time, even with my 1 GHz fiber-based Internet pipeline. In addition, I use Ethernet to connect to my devices, not Wi-Fi.
My buffering, however, is not the network. It is the devices. However, this makes my point that, even though I have a wide pipe, the hardware is behind the times. This is going to be the same scenario for 5G. If 5G does not deliver on that promise, it is going to be bad news for the content delivery peeps. Recent data from Penthera Partners, a mobile video software company, revealed that 56 percent of consumers say they just give up and try again later when they encounter problems trying to watch streaming TV shows or movies.
If you think that will not affect providers, think again. Today, more than 70 percent of Disney’s content is accessed via mobile. That is up 40 percent from 2015.
Next comes virtual “X.” Besides turbo-charging existing applications, companies all over are developing new media models. A laundry list of those includes immersive interactive experiences across video, gaming, music, interactive advertising, and implementing augmented, mixed, and other realities. In-car entertainment is another big item. Eventually, there will even be 3D holographics – although that is quite some time in the future. All of these will require extremely low latency to meet the performance metrics and QoS.
5G home broadband is another area that is garnering a lot interest. 5G is considered a serious challenger once it gets up to realistic speed and latency. Point-to-multipoint (PMP) is an easy win for wideband, mmWave apps in urban (and certain rural areas). It just has to have the bandwidth.
Early models are around 300 Mbps. That is a respectable number if it is not too diluted by large numbers of concurrent users. It should be able to handle cutting-edge content on a really large screen or multiple high-end devices, simultaneously. That makes the cable companies sweat. In a few years, those wireless megabits will be pushing that gig boundary. Then it will become a serious challenger for the high-end content.
However, those few years are going to be an expensive haul for the wireless players. The big question will be RoI. The consumer is used to competition among players. The wireless segment will have to really show an advantage, lay out that infrastructure, and populate it with content. That will cost. The value proposition is challenging.
Finally, comes social media. We have seen what the Facebooks and Googles of the world can do with content. Imagine what they are thinking when they have access to 20 times the current bandwidth. Given that, there are bound to be new, expanding platforms and players – including disruptive and bad actors. We really do not have a good vision of what type of players will evolve. Even the inexperienced will have tools that will allow them to create weapons-grade content that can rival the best that comes from professional companies.
All of the over-the-top capability is spawning a bunch of new unknowns. The biggest is adoption. In more than one column I have asked the question; if they build it, will they come? Eventually, they will, of course. The unknown is how long it will take. Many users are still quite happy with enhanced 4G (which is also still evolving). It works for what they need. Therefore, to bait them to move to 5G will require new or significant changes beyond what they are experiencing currently – and, at a reasonable price. A real conundrum for the players building out this new ecosystem because it is expensive.
In some way, all of this is akin to gazing into a crystal ball. It is difficult to forecast when the tipping point will arrive and 5G will achieve buoyancy without water wings. That is, largely, contingent on both benefits and pricing models of various 5G services, which are barely out the door, and barely hitting specs.
It will be years before 5G achieves blanket coverage (at least here in the United States). Some suggest 2025 will be the year when we can say, essentially, we have 5G. Other say it will be 10 years, or more before a ubiquitous 5G network is up and running for all. I will go with the more conservative estimates.
Cisco, famous or crystal balling (and also famous for exaggerating predictions) says that 2022 will be the year when 5G will have “measurable and significant” impact. That means, according to them, there will be over 422 million 5G connections. Average speeds will be 170 Mbps. While that is four times the average 4G speed, it still is far from the promised 5G numbers. That is only 3 percent of all mobile connections worldwide. To me, that is hardly measurable and significant. An Intel-funded report by Ovum pegs 2025 as a tipping point when 57 percent of global wireless media revenues will be generated through 5G. That sounds a bit more realistic to me. We will see.