The recent IHS survey that announced operators’ intentions to launch commercial 5G before the year end should be cause for relief and celebration. Relief, because the hype will be over and we can see what 5G is all about. Celebration – well – because we can see what 5G is all about.
Or can we?
The operators who are planning to launch this year are in North America, which is fine, with operators in South Korea planning to throw the switch next year. Europe is behind and only plans to launch in 2021 or so.
You have to wonder, though, whether any launches this year will actually be 5G or an upgraded version of 4G.
Whatever the answer to that question, operators certainly look set to reap some rewards – mainly through much lower latency, decreased cost and increased network capacity.
Then, of course, the age-old questions remain the same – “… Where are the handsets?” being first and foremost. Motorola launched a 5G handset a couple of weeks ago, which turns out to be a 4G handset with a bolt on ‘mod’ will be available any day now but obviously cannot be connected to Verizon’s 5G network on account of it not existing.
The handset is “stuffed with four antenna modules” which make it possible to do 5G type things. It sounds a bit ugly, a bit clunky and – frankly – you can feel the radio waves beating on your brain from here.
The announcement of this not-quite 5G handset also said that it could be connected early in 2019, which is not exactly the end of this year.
So, are we about to see the new dawn, the bright new day that is the new ‘G’? Probably not, and given the handset issue, probable network issues and the continuing hype, it is really not realistic to suppose that 5G is just around the corner. At least not in a ‘walk into a phone shop or Verizon store and grab one’ kind of way.
That version still seems some way off, and – who knows – it may be that the Europeans will be actually the first team to launch an actual, real 5G service with phones that have all the relevant parts inside it, not bolted to the outside.
Meanwhile the transformation that must take place for companies to be able to support the new G are still underway, provided they have properly started. The business models are still confused (and confusing), and while it is easy to talk about the opportunity to really differentiate at last, the reality is that telcos are not good at adapting and being innovative. It is more likely, sadly, that others will take advantage of the new technology, just as others took advantage of 3G and 4G.
The hype continues.