5G (and the rest) need to deliver real benefits, real soon

5G investment
Image credit | KSwinicki

The news that just one company, Xiaomi, is to invest 50 billion yuan ($7 billion) in an undefined mixture of 5G, AI and the IoT is obviously good news. But it does pose the question – how much has already been invested in these now ‘usual suspects’ and how much more will be required for the benefits and returns to become real. The payback, according to the people tasked with those particular spreadsheets will be huge.

But how long will it be before we see the real 5G, AI and IoT that provide real benefits to us? After years of hype and Powerpoint Promises, we are not even at the end of the beginning.

We are at the beginning of the beginning.

The promises have been such that companies announce many cool new applications but, you have to suspect, the new applications will not be delivered using pure 5G or real AI, they will be on a mixture of networks and platforms that look like the dream of 5G and AI.

While they will look like 5G and AI based applications, they will not actually be, for a while. Underneath, a lot of work will be going on to catch up with the Powerpoint Promises.

Meanwhile, the Powerpoint Promise presenters have a challenge. What to come up with next (for, say MWC next month) to capture and keep the imagination of the industry.

They cannot say ‘don’t worry, we’re working on making all the previous promises come true’. The industry would laugh.

Instead, you have to suspect, even more blue sky promises will be presented as if they are just around the corner (talking of which, Verizon is about to link a million drone flights via 5G any time now).

It is not just 5G (and the rest) that have done this. It is not a criticism of the people whose jobs it is to make stakeholders, partners and customers believe in them. It has happened before.

The promise of the original GSM was hyped as completely safe, secure and unbreakable. Then GSM became known as God Send Mobiles, as the rest of the industry hurried to catch up – and it wasn’t as secure as they thought. WAP, GPRS, 3G and 4G all made promises that took years to deliver. And at each turn, there were short cuts and launches and announcements that did not completely deliver and were not completely accurate.

The difference with 5G (and the rest) is that the numbers and stakes seem so much higher. This should mean that the returns must also be much higher – and maybe one day they will be.

But, like broadband (‘build it and they will come’), it will require very deep pockets to weather the lull between the Powerpoint Promises and the Reality.

With global political tensions at their highest for many years and with many seriously beginning to fear this particular global tech bubble might be about to burst, let us hope the real benefits and returns arrive before the train is derailed.

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