MWC is over and while the stages have seen some confident predictions (e.g. Cisco: “hype is going to be reflected in the reality”), the message from the floor and in the trenches is much more realistic.
To me, this is excellent news because, in reality, no one is getting over excited and consequently the bar which 5G has to get over during its early stages to meet expectations is much lower as a result. This means that there will be a much smaller correction when the pause comes compared to the situation 20 years ago when 3G was going to be amazing out of the box.
The reality is that 5G is early stage and it has significant issues. However, these problems are the same problems that we had with both 3G and 4G which leads me to expect that they will be solved more quickly than before.
First, bulky handset:this is largely caused by the lack of integration of the core 5G components and a bigger battery (see below).
- While the kinks are still being worked out of a system, one keeps the components discrete so that changes can easily be affected.
- Once everything is working well, then the integration phase begins and the devices become smaller and lighter as the 5G footprint shrinks.
- This will begin in 2020 with Qualcomm most likely to be the first to launch integrated 5G products.
Second, heat and battery life:RFM tests of live 5G products quickly showed that both basestations (where they could be reached) and the devices were running very warm.
- This is largely due to the power amplifiers which have once again fallen back to around 15% efficient with the new technology.
- This means that 85% of the energy goes in is dissipated as heat, killing the battery life and making the devices run hot.
These problems are nothing to get worried about as they are the exact same problems that plagued the early stages of both 3G and 4G. However, it does mean that the first iteration of devices will be bigger, more expensive with lower battery life than their 4G only counterparts.
The problem with this is that from a consumer perspective, 4G is already so good that the user may not notice any impact from 5G in his Digital Life. Consequently, other than bragging rights, there is little reason for a consumer to pay up for a 5G device in the short-term. The net result is that 5G is pretty much where I thought it would be and I continue to expect an initial roll-out followed a pause while the technology matures and everyone works out what to do with it.
Once the base has been re-established, I would expect 5G to gradually take-over other radio technologies leading to slow but steady growth in infrastructure and handset or terminal sales.
The good news is that because deep down, the industry knows this, meaning that the pause is already anticipated and expected. Party animals will be feeling a bit miffed at this MWC but no party also means no hangover.