MWC's Inflated Claims for the Future of 5G Demand a Reality Check
Now that the dust has settled on MWC 2019, it’s time to take a breath. The mobile industry is in a headlong drive to the future but at such a relentless pace that some sanity risks getting lost along the way. So, let’s pause to reflect.
As expected the conversation was all about 5G, but the near-realization of this long-anticipated network upgrade hasn’t come alone. It is the combination of 5G with AI, cloud, and the IoT which have all come to maturity at the same time and are spurring a new wave of computing. In different combinations this will unleash incredible compute power in our personal devices and unlock patterns in data that humans just can’t see. Together these technologies will transform how we live, work, and play.
But not so fast. There are those at MWC who may wish 5G had never been invented.
It’s clear that for all the exaggerated claims made for super high-speed connectivity—from lifting rural populations out of poverty to solving climate change (both essayed by the GSMA)—the thing will cost. Most operators have barely made their money back on 3G, let alone ramped their networks to 4G.
What’s more, no one really has a clue what actual business models and bone fide applications will fly. That’s why vendors are panicking operators into buying 5G software equipment and why operators are panicking national governments into selling off high value spectrum on the cheap.
It is clear that video is the 5G killer app for consumers. Given the amount of video trafficking over the global internet today let alone in future, MWC should be re-named Video World Congress, joshed Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud.
But downloading a box set of Better Call Saul won’t cut it. Will 8K VR or live streamed interactive sports or synchronous AR multiplayer games? No-one knows.
The biggest bets are being piled onto heavy industries like mining, private healthcare, or the military: those with the cash to spare for the premium of millisecond precision engineering and tailored algorithms.
The sagest comment I heard was from Dr. Ali Parsa, founder of medical app Babylon who was speaking about AI but might as well have been referring to 5G.
“It has an exaggerated capacity today, either possible of immense benefit or potential harm. The reality is it could go either way. In the short term it will do a lot less than many of us pretend it can do and in the long term it will go far beyond our wildest imagination. We should all think about what it can do today and try our best to manage that future.”
Photo: Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco, at MWC 2019
Believe the hype: 5G will change the game for immersive technologies, such as VR and AR, allowing us to do things which are impossible today.
Technological progress, Moore's Law: Call it what you will but the buck does not stop with 4K resolutions over 5G networks. Wait for 2030 when 6G will be here.
5G's massive cost outlay is a concern for mobile operators, while Liberty Media's boss says increases in broadband speeds will feed a growing demand for content.
5G networking is being phased in and will be transformative to society. But operators are already looking to its successor, theorizing plans for far-faster 6G.
Speakers from Magic Leap, Niantic, HTC, RYOT, and the Olympic Committee talked up immersive media and entertainment experiences made possible with 5G.
"Don't get short-term greedy to kill the long-term goose," mobile operators warn governments. They want governments to ease up on regulations and spectrum costs.