5G Technology Meets the Achilles Heel of Smartphone Hardware

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Today, video is the king of content demand—and it will be long into the future. NSR predicts that by 2022, 82% of all IP traffic will be video.

Video is also a prime mover for 5G, with upwardly revised predictions that 5G coverage will reach 45% of the world’s population by end of 2024.

BlogWhen it comes to the consumer, the 5G emphasis has been on mobile. British operator EE, for example, has enhanced its multi-screen app BT Sport with 4K UHD and HDR timed to coincide with launch of its 5G network.

For other telcos, though, 5G means an opportunity to drive fixed line subscriptions to the home. Connect a 5G router to the set-top box or smart TV in the living room and deliver enhanced TV over the last mile.

Cable providers, too, can put 5G cells into street cabinets and cover the last 500 yards where replacing coax with fibre or enhancing it with DOCSIS 3 is a less viable option.

The other data-heavy application primed for 5G is gaming. It is arguably more of a game-changer than live video since real-time multi-player gaming isn’t possible, certainly over mobile, without it. It’s also nearly impossible to create a shared reality experience if the timing isn’t perfect—but 5G solves this.

Niantic, maker of Pokémon Go, is building a game that renders augmented reality in a near to instantaneous tens of milliseconds of latency. Meaning that in a peer-to-peer multiplayer AR game you can see where your friends actually are rather than where they were.

Synched with this is the potential of edge computing in which logic is moved out of the device and into the cloud. After 20 years of CDNs, 5G can now put compute at the edge. If you can process more encodes and transcodes there you can create thinner client apps. With extreme low latency you effectively stream from the edge with less rendering on the device.

The concept of Niantic’s latest game, branded around Harry Potter, relies on edge compute to perform tasks such as arbitrating the real-time interactions of a thousand individuals playing in a tight geographic area.

But one thing is missing and it could be the Achilles heel of 5G in its early days.

Battery life sucks. Or rather, data intensive apps like video games suck battery life.

One review of Samsung’s 5G-ready Galaxy S10 reports an hour-long video draining power by 9%—in HD and at half screen brightness. Gaming saps energy further, with the S10 losing around 21% an hour.

The Lithium-ion based batteries in current cellphones haven’t changed much in 30 years of consumer electronics and are nearing the end of their shelf-life.

There will likely be a pinch point between the development of more economical battery tech, possibility involving supercapacitors, and the migration of data to the cloud.

Without having to store and compute, the edge will turn your smartphone into a streamlined slimline streaming device but as it stands 5G will strain the hardware in your pocket and the patience of newly converted subscribers.

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