5G has the potential to affect every industry, every company and every person on the planet -- that's the driving force behind coverage of the topic in Heavy Reading research and Light Reading news reports and events.
As we launch our new 5G community site, I think it is worth revisiting some questions. What is 5G for? Why do we need it? And, crucially, how can the industry generate value from 5G?
On the face of it, it is a simple analysis: The industry works, more or less, on a ten-year cycle. 4G-LTE is a great success and a new generation of mobile network technology is due somewhere around 2020. If the industry follows this pattern for 5G, it would not be a disaster, and would probably be at least moderately successful.
The more difficult questions are: Will this be enough? Why should established industry patterns hold? And what happens if they don't?
With 5G we believe there is a great opportunity to rewrite the industry playbook for a new era. Let's keep what really works from the established processes -- global standards, high-volume product, price elasticity, and so on -- and look to apply it to new use cases with the potential for massive growth.
The idea is to insert 5G into diverse industrial value chains and facilitate entirely new categories of service -- the Tactile Internet, autonomous vehicles and remote healthcare, to pick just a few examples -- so that operators can earn a cut of the value generated by these services. We can think of this, broadly, as the transition from communications services to communications-plus-industrial control services. If it works out, the industry can add an entirely new market segment.
This is an ambitious target. The diversity of technical requirements generated by different customer types will cost money to develop and maintain, with uncertain prospects for a return. A robotics company may say it requires millimeter location accuracy to operate robots on factory floors, but how much of the value it creates will accrue to the 5G connectivity provider?
The industry, justifiably, is concerned about escalating R&D investment and product development costs for use cases that may never deliver a payback in any meaningful way. The history of wireless communications is littered with such examples.
So how to square this circle? The opportunity is too good to leave on the table, yet the risk of attacking on all fronts is too high.
I think there are three important ways the industry can use technology to make efficient use of the vast intellectual and financial capital it will commit to 5G development. These are:
This is not an argument to neglect mobile broadband services. This remains the core of the operator business and 5G technology has great potential to enhance the customer experience and to improve network economics. But it is a call not to only rely on a business that is subject to intense competition and pricing challenges when some truly great opportunities for growth in adjacent industries exist.
— Gabriel Brown, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading