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5G: Noise, hype, reality

A LinkedIn post by Google’s Head of Regional Sales for telco, Sebastian Barros, brought up the well-debated question of whether next generation cellular tech, 5G, is just another upgrade in cellular technology. Sebastian said, “I recall Jeffrey Sach’s research about the positive correlation between mobile penetration and country GDP almost a decade ago.”

And the benefits that faster and better mobile Internet brings to a country is well-documented.”

Even CTIA, the US wireless association has published a report assessing the impact of 4G in the American economy between 2010 and 2019. Some of the mind-blowing numbers include:

– 4G added USD240 billion to the American economy,

– the wireless industry enabled over 20 million jobs in the US.

– 4G provided cheaper mobile data. There was a 98-percent price reduction between 2011 to 2019.

But could the same results be replicated with 5G?

Sebastian sees that 5G is expected to have a bigger impact than 4G. “We have seen this ‘multiplying effect’ for every new G that is brought to the market.”

Henrik Palsson, former head of Ericsson’s Consumer Labs begs to differ however.

Despite being a deep believer in 5G, he sees its story being very different to previous G stories. “2G captured voice and messaging. The long-time cellular dream of capturing video is already captured by 4G.” He also observed that 3G captured (no market with a killer application), and 5G risks the same.

“5G takes the industry into unknown territory. EXCITING, YES. But, there will be both celebrations and bloodbaths in front of us.”

Hype or not?

Sebastian admits that 5G’s real impact is a bit controversial. “There is a real challenge to understand the economic value of 5G as there is a mix of vendor marketing, geopolitical play and so on.

“And many experts are divided about the real impact.”

One can’t deny the value of another G. China has already built (or plan to build) 500,000 towers for 5G, while Korea is leaping forward to allocated $200 million for 6G.

“And for the first time (maybe ever), this G is at the centre of governments’ clashes,” Sebastian said.

From this journalist’s perspective, 5G more than the previous Gs, has been politicised and used as an avenue to voice and display condemnation of certain government regimes. A few countries like Taiwan and UK have gone so far as to ban the use of telco equipment from this country, citing privacy and security as reasons to do so.

This may or may not hurt mass deployment of 5G in a rapid manner, as these countries are left with few alternative vendors who could roll out 5G networks the way Huawei and ZTE can.

Sebastian also points to telco consultant Dean Bubley, who views 5G as just another G, and hardly world-changing.

Dean thinks interesting 5G stuff will happen in Phase 2 to 3 (around 2023 onwards), when there could be more mass market innovation, especially for industrial use. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/rant-5g-unicorns-dean-bubley

Maybe the hype is real after all. Only it isn’t the right timing and the uncertain environment is potentially disruptive for it, at the moment.