Industry Still Looking for 'Killer App' to Drive 5G Adoption
5G hype is in danger of outpacing reality, speakers said during an IEEE virtual event Thursday. At the same time, experts warned, no killer app has emerged that is driving consumers to think they need a 5G phone. House Communications Subcommittee member Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., meanwhile voiced optimism during a Thursday Punchbowl News event (see 2209080053) about 5G’s potential role in increasing innovation in telehealth and autonomous vehicles.
Consumers have been trained to think that every new generation of wireless will mean faster connection speeds, but most got the speeds they needed under 4G, said Joe Madden, analyst at Mobile Experts. Apps like Google Maps and Uber “made it obvious” you needed a 4G phone 10 years ago, he said.
“We’re a few years into 5G and there is no app that’s driving people to buy a 5G phone,” Madden said: “There is now a disconnect between what we actually achieved with 5G and what the end consumer perceives. They don’t really see much need to buy it or pay more for it and I think that’s a problem in the industry.” 5G is hardly a failure, Madden said. It’s “a spectacular success” in lowering the costs for carriers of delivering each GB of data, he said. “The benefit is to the operator and … not so much to the end user right now,” he said.
5G has launched with more fanfare than earlier generations of wireless, said Prakash Sangam, principal at Tantra Analyst. “When 4G launched, not many people knew or heard of 4G,” he said. Many people may not have 5G yet, but they know what it is and what it can do, he said. 5G is more than marketing and people are seeing user speeds increase, he said. “Coverage has been an issue” for most carriers, but it is improving, he said.
“There is this clash between what people expected and what is being delivered right now,” Sangam said. People expected ultralow latency and other “fancy” 5G features on day one, but that hasn’t happened, he said. Deployment is “a process,” he said.
“We need to keep in mind that these are still early days for 5G -- we’re barely two years into the deployment, and the deployment coincided with the start of a global pandemic and that has had to have an effect as to how fast things are rolling out,” said Monisha Ghosh, professor of electrical engineering at Notre Dame and former FCC chief technology officer. Carriers did a good job of building out their networks despite COVID-19, she said.
The problem so far is coverage, Ghosh said. “You get [gigabyte speeds] on your phone but only if you’re standing on a street corner next to a [connected] lamppost,” she said. Even in a place like downtown Chicago, only limited areas have dense millimeter-wave deployments, she said. There has been lots of hype and too much focus on speeds alone, she said: “We need to delve a bit deeper into really understanding what 5G can deliver to us as consumers.”
“Consumers don’t yet see the benefits” of 5G, said David Witkowski, CEO of Oku Solutions. Apps and services that will take advantage of lower latency and massive machine communication “are still in development,” he said. “Smartphones were really the killer app for 4G -- they made the network work, and they made the network valuable,” he said. People ask, do you really need a gigabyte connection when you’re driving down the road at 60 miles per hour, he said. Carriers face a dilemma, Witkowski said: “5G is about carrier economics … but you can’t really market that.”
People think about 5G as a single standard, but it’s not, Witkowski said. “We think about 4G and LTE as interchangeable but what a lot of people don’t realize is there are other 4G standards,” he said. Likewise with 5G, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project has its new radio standard, “but there are other 5G technologies,” he said. Cordless phones have two digital enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) 5G standards and there’s a competing 5G standard from India, he said. Sangam noted the Indian standard is being combined with the 3GPP standard.
“We’re on the cusp of a new generation of innovation” on 5G uses, Carter said. “I’m excited about what’s going to be done” with the technology, “particularly in rural areas.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth became an integral part of our healthcare system,” he said: And that’s where we’re really going to see, I think, a lot of the innovation, a lot of the great discoveries that are going to take place.” It’s “very exciting to think about what’s going to happen” with AVs because of 5G deployments, including the potential for “decreasing emissions through” their proliferation, Carter said. More 5G availability can also affect “the increase of manufacturing and speed of manufacturing.”
“There’s still a road” to full development of 5G use, “but it’s real,” said CTIA Chief Communications Officer Nick Ludlum during the Punchbowl event. “We’re seeing 5G’s impact across all different sectors of the economy,” including on AVs. He noted 5G’s potential to affect climate change, citing a January CTIA-commissioned Accenture study of potential carbon emission reductions because of the technology. It “could “transform mobility as we know it,” said electric AV company Beep CEO Joe Moye. “If you think about shared mobility, you think about the environmental impact of people using this as an alternative means of transportation.”