According to many experts, 5G has failed to live up to the hype. However, if this were a marathon, the gun would have just gone off to signal the start of the race.
5G Adoption Slow but Steady
The race metaphor is somewhat apt, as different countries jockey for position to roll out 5G to unlock its economic benefits first. Ian Fogg, who heads up the analysis team at Opensignal out of the United Kingdom, sees it as being a relatively wide-open field.
“Right now the U.S. is the leader in launching that very high-speed mmWave service [which has become available with the advent of 5G],” he said, pointing to Verizon, which will compete primarily in U.S. Cellular in that regard. “[T-Mobile] is also very early in launching standalone access and again the U.S. is ahead on that.”
“In other areas, in terms of adoption, someone like Korea is very advanced, with approximately 10% of mobile users already embracing 5G connectivity. So, again, it depends on how you look at it.”
The 10% figure is eye-opening in some respects. It’s enough to rank South Korea at the top according to Opensignal research, even though 5G began rolling out in 2019. For its part, China is generally regarded as one of the leaders in having deployed 5G. Its target of rolling out 500,000 5G mobile base stations by the end of 2020 is within reach, according to the South China Morning Post. However, there are still few signs of people in China actually using 5G on even a noticeable scale, according to Light Reading’s Robert Clark. Regardless, with 3GPP at work on new 5G releases, improvements are coming.
“Between where we are today and something the industry will brand and market as 6G, we will probably have five versions of the 5G standard,” said Fogg. “So, we’ll have many improvements between now and 2030, which is typically around the time the next thing that the industry markets as ‘G’ arrives.”
Many 5G Benefits Still to Be Reaped
Fogg sees the prices of 5G-enabled phones, which are already increasing exponentially in number, dropping drastically by mid-2021. At that point they’ll make up the vast majority of those available, prompting consumer adoption to a much larger degree.
That’s not just relative to the faster speeds some markets are already experiencing, the higher frequencies opening up, or the lower latency Fogg anticipates may end up being the biggest consumer benefit of all. It’s also in reference to the indirect benefits they’re likely to experience in terms of 5G’s overall impact to the economy.
“Until you get a big audience of 5G users, it’s very hard to build a business case, say I’m going to build a 5G app or a 5G service that only works well on 5G,” said Fogg. “I think, looking beyond that, clearly the industry wants 5G to be enabled for the whole of the economy, from industrial automation, there are automotive use cases, there are healthcare use cases, there are agricultural use cases, there are smart city use cases. I think where the industry is thinking here is that, as the 5G standards come through, probably from the mid-2020s on, we will see 5G be a key foundation for all parts of the economy.”
Remember, 4G was seen as a major leap forward technologically. Early on though, it was much of the same in terms of what we’re seeing now with 5G; a lot of doubt in terms of what it was capable of delivering. As Jay Jacobs at Global X breaks down, it took a few years for key segments, including wireless telecom companies, to see significant returns, starting in 2012.
In that sense, it may be fair to give 5G the benefit of the doubt for now, because the possibilities are still countless in number. As Dan Warren, director of advanced network research at Samsung R&D UK, argues, the 5G consumer market is already gaining traction, while enterprise is still finding its feet.
“There’s a whole range of technology underpinning 5G such as network slicing and network orchestration to allow different levels of quality of service to be supported from a single network,” he said. “All of that is still at a relatively immature level that is still being experimented with and we’re seeing proofs of concept to a lot of those principles. So, I actually think 5G is very much a consumer play in these early stages and the enterprise part has to come along a little later, because we’re still working out how the industry addresses the opportunities that enterprise brings.”
With journalism credits spanning several sectors including finance and tech, Ryan joins 6GWorld with wide eyes looking onward. He aims to lend his experience to the site, covering the latest generation of cellular advancements as it unfolds, leading into 6G.