MWCA 2018: What Isn’t Talked About in 5G?

Mobile World Congress America’s first keynote on Wednesday set the tone for the following days, highlighting two key themes: 5G and artificial intelligence.

According to the first keynote speaker GSMA Director General Mats Granryd, 5G will define the future mobile space, with half of all connections being 5G by 2025. That’s 1.3 billion connections with 268 million being from the Americas on their own.

Artificial intelligence will also redefine the way we interact with the world. The second speaker, Marcelo Claure, COO of SoftBank Group estimated that by 2021, 1.8 billion people will be using chat bots and virtual assistants. In healthcare for example, AI will be able diagnose patients five times faster than an average physician.
These are powerful statistics that show us a lot of what the future will bring. Qualcomm and many other OEMs have also announced that we will see the first real 5G capable devices (no bolt-on accessory) by early 2019, which means we are well on our way to a 5G future.

However, let’s also be clear that full 5G adoption is still years from being fully viable, with REL-16 and enterprise solutions 2-5 years away at least. Many analysts (and also operators and OEMs) agree that while some use cases for 5G exist, it is far from clear which will take-off and be a catalyst for the technology.

At MWCA 2018, there are many vendors touting their 5G capabilities and use cases. However, one thing that is missing from this conversation is any mention of the consumer who will be the first to adopt 5G services. When the first 5G phone comes to market in 2019, who will buy it? Or to put it in a more encompassing framework, what will a consumer use a 5G device for? What problem is it solving for them? Initial adoption will naturally be low until the network expands, more use cases are proven out, and devices get cheaper. But the question is still important to answer, as early adopters are always key to new product launches. Here are my predictions as to why a consumer (I am leaving enterprise aside for now) would want to be the first to buy a 5G capable smartphone:

  • I want to show that I am on the cusp of technological advances”. This consumer seeks out new tech because they gain intrinsic value from being the first to own new technology and being able to show it off to their peers.
  • I need to have the best gaming conditions possible”. Gamers often want to have top-of-the-line gear to gain performance edges over their competition. Lower latency through a 5G device means that gamers can have a slight advantage over others in intense MMORPG-style games.
  • I need to be available at all times as my job/lifestyle depends on it”. This is a bit dramatic, but certain jobs require you to be available 24/7. Previously people may have averted certain areas or events in fear of losing connectivity, but 5G capable devices in 5G enabled cities may allow people greater freedom while still satisfying their need to be reachable.

While these three examples don’t necessarily tell you the type of person that will buy a 5G smartphone, they give us a good understanding of where the initial uptake will be on a needs basis. This will also allow app makers and other players of the ecosystem to target initial products and services to these needs. There is tremendous buzz around 5G right now, with a lot of focus on devices, components, down/upload speeds, etc. However, having a consumer-centric approach allows us to see through all the hype and identify the areas that will see initial adoption of 5G devices.