5G Still More Like Rocket Fuel Than a Mission to Mars
The examples of new automotive and health care services, cited earlier in this story, have already attracted skepticism. The question is not so much about interest in self-driving cars and remote surgery, but whether 5G is really needed in those scenarios. In their absence, there is not much else.
Howard Watson, the chief technology officer of the UK's BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), sums up the dilemma: "We have established the enhanced mobile broadband use case and built a business case to invest in 5G based on that, but I am still waiting for us to concretely land the business cases that truly exploit low latency and massive connectivity," he told attendees at the 5G World Summit. "We need to work to convince our CFOs of the next wave of investment."
Watson is certainly not out on a limb. Orange's Lugagne Delpon, who works as a senior vice president at the French operator's Orange Labs Networks research division, says the industry is in a "chicken-and-egg situation" in this area.
"Operators are waiting for industries to provide them with use cases, industries are waiting for operators to provide them with the enablers and performance they need, and the regulator is trying to figure out the business model before it awards spectrum," he said. "Everyone is waiting for everyone."
Orange, at least, is trying to get things moving. In partnership with Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), the Finnish equipment supplier, it has set up a facility in Paris where companies can test new use cases. Orange is also trying to educate these companies about network slicing -- whereby virtualization would support different types of service on the same 5G network -- and what this means for service level agreements.
But Scott Petty, the Vodafone UK chief technology officer, is not expecting a "mission to Mars" anytime soon. Applications that demand 5G connectivity will probably not arrive in the next three to five years, he told an audience at the 5G World Summit. As a result, Vodafone is focused on using 5G as "rocket fuel" for the time being. (See Petty's Grievances: The 5G Hopes & Fears of Vodafone UK's CTO.)
Watson's remarks about CFO buy-in are troubling. The clear implication is that a network overhaul will take much longer if commercially attractive use cases do not show up fairly soon. One danger then is that more proactive and less risk-averse technology companies can seize the initiative in areas like edge computing, as they have done elsewhere. Ultimately, that would put additional pressure on operators to realize efficiency benefits through network transformation and take the focus off service innovation.
As far as many policymakers are concerned, 5G remains a revolutionary new technology that will spur economic growth. Everyone hopes it will eventually live up to that promise. Right now, though, 5G looks far more like rocket fuel than a mission to Mars.
— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading