BARCELONA, March 1st – Driverless cars, refrigerators that talk to toasters, stunning immersive reality, mind-blowing gaming experiences – 5G would enable all of it, and telcos would make a package.
But the reality is not so nice. The network, which promised in Ericsson’s ad that it would be “not just another G,” has left many customers wondering what they’re paying for.
However, 5G was once again the focus of the phone industry’s annual gathering, the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.
Event organizers proclaimed that 5G would “unlock untapped value for all players across the ecosystem” and “redefine how the world connects.”
The hype came with a pinch of reality from Christel Heydemann, boss of the French broadcaster Orange.
Network operators are in danger, she told the MWC, because “massive network investments of almost 600 billion euros in Europe in the last decade happened to be difficult to monetize”.
“And consumers expect to pay less and get more,” she added.
Networks aren’t the only ones who might regret their big bet.
Ericsson, which supplies the equipment for 5G networks, has just laid off 8,500 employees after profits plummeted.
“5G disappointed pretty much everyone – service providers and consumers, and it didn’t excite businesses,” Dario Talmesio of research firm Omdia told AFP.
The spirit of 4G
Talmesio said 5G has never really been a consumer proposition, it is always better suited for business and industrial purposes.
However, telecom companies were unlikely to be lured into investing billions just to improve connectivity in factories and ports or to help develop high-tech medical services.
Instead, they’ve wrapped 5G in a kind of marketing that presents everything – even small improvements – as world-changing innovations.
But even now, the benefits of 5G are still largely unclear to the average smartphone user.
Thousands of US consumers said in a survey last year that they were excited about the prospect of 5G, but when they pushed for it, they had little idea of the benefits.
Most of the services listed were already available with 4G, according to a survey of 10,000 US consumers by the Israeli software company ironSource.
This sums up two of the main problems with 5G – 4G is good enough for most people, and the 5G jargon is often impenetrable.
Terms such as “low latency”, “network slicing”, “zero rating” and “massive IoT” should not make the pulse beat faster.
For large parts of the industry, however, criticism of 5G is unthinkable.
Ericsson Vice President Fredrik Jejdling dismissed the idea that poor adoption of 5G was one of the reasons for Ericsson’s mass layoffs.
Instead, he explained that the company needed to “align our investment levels with market demand.”
Ericsson gave 5G innovations plenty of space at the MWC and insisted there will be no compromises on research and development.
“It’s a platform for innovation. If you don’t do it, you don’t know what you’re missing out on,” said Jejdling.
Frederique Liaigre, who heads Verizon’s operations in France and other European countries, shares Jejdling’s enthusiasm and says the potential of 5G is “unlimited”.
Verizon was among the first to roll out 5G to customers in the United States, and Liaigre acknowledges that the business side is just getting started.
But she thinks her projects – like providing a private 5G network for the port of Southampton in the UK to improve its security and supply chain management – are just as sexy as driverless cars or talking toasters.
“The transformative capabilities of this technology are truly amazing,” she said.
Whether ordinary consumers will ever be that bright-eyed about 5G is up for debate. — AFP