5G laptop market limps along with minimal demand

Despite the security and accessibility advantages to 5G laptops, demand for these devices doesn't match the industry's enthusiasm that they'll take off.

Kelsey Ziser, Senior Editor

July 11, 2024

3 Min Read
Side view of a black cat looking at a laptop screen, with her paws on the keyboard, on white background
Vendors might have an easier time marketing laptops if they came with a free kitten.(Source: Sari O'Neal/Alamy Stock Photo)

In comparison to some of the more grandiose use cases for 5G – think, flying taxis and remote surgery – the market for 5G laptops appears to be more attainable and practical. Unfortunately, demand for 5G laptops is limited.

"The reality of connected tablets, laptops, and other personal devices – other than cars – is challenging despite representing a perfect theoretical business opportunity for everybody in the value chain," Dario Talmesio, research director for Omdia, told Light Reading in an email exchange.

Still, vendors and service providers have high hopes for the 5G laptop market. In February, for example, Ericsson said it was partnering with T-Mobile as the connectivity provider for 5G laptops in its Enterprise Virtual Cellular Network (EVCN) pilot in the US. Ericsson added that 5G laptops could reduce security concerns over the use of public Wi-Fi and lessen the need for "time-consuming VPN configurations" for enterprises.

"A new era for laptop connectivity with #5G, Ericsson EVCN and T-Mobile #SASE. And a great use case for network slicing on our nationwide #5G standalone (SA) network," T-Mobile CTO John Saw posted on LinkedIn in response to the announcement. "So glad to partner with our T-Mobile For Business team to launch this!"

Related:Why Intel ditched 5G laptops, and what to expect next

A 'tiny' market

Despite the security and accessibility advantages to 5G laptops, demand for these devices doesn't match the industry's enthusiasm that they'll take off.

The majority of laptops are used indoors with access to Wi-Fi, added Talmesio. While mobile networks might be more secure, Wi-Fi is "simply there and is perceived as free, even if, at times, it can be cumbersome," he said.

The option to use 'free' Wi-Fi could make it harder for consumers to stomach the thought of paying $100 or more for cellular-embedded devices.

"Moreover, the cost of connectivity is often on par with that of a smartphone, which can perform many of the tasks of a connected laptop," said Talmesio. That reduces the market for 5G laptops to a "tiny niche of enterprise users" on the move throughout the day that need access to enterprise applications on their laptops and tablets, he said.

As a result, 5G laptops are already fading into the sunset. "5G support in laptops is complicated due to low demand, extra expenses, and difficulty in getting carriers on board," reported XDA.

XDA's João Carrasqueira reviewed 14 AI PCs launched in May, but only two were capable of connecting to 5G.

"The thing is, Qualcomm tried to encourage companies to adopt 5G in their Snapdragon X laptops. But PC manufacturers aren't interested in building PCs with 5G support, because no one is buying them. It's not as simple as putting a 5G modem and a SIM card slot on a laptop, unfortunately," explained Carrasqueira. He added that Apple won't build 5G into its MacBooks.

Last March, Intel abandoned making 5G laptops with partner MediaTek, reported Light Reading's Mike Dano. Intel also planned to discontinue its 4G laptops as well.

"Connected PC sales have been a disappointment. A diverse group of companies such as Qualcomm, Microsoft, T-Mobile and HP have stated the space has been a disappointment in our conversations," analyst Jeff Fieldhack, with Counterpoint Research, wrote in response to questions from Dano.

March 2023 data from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) revealed that laptops accounted for only 1.5% of all announced 5G form factors, reported Dano. The GSA counted 1,840 announced 5G devices across 26 different form factors.

Relying on phones

In addition, cellular connectivity on a laptop is another bill consumers have to pay when they could easily use their phone as a hotspot, and "getting carriers to support these devices, specifically in the United States, is not easy," wrote XDA's Carrasqueira.

The industry had high hopes for connected laptops in 3G, 4G and now 5G, but the high cost of hardware and connectivity compared to demand has continued to present a challenge, said Omdia's Talmesio.

"Nice-haves need to be affordable; must-haves will find their affluent niche, which is mainly in the enterprise, for those with no alternative or budgetary constraints," he said.

About the Author(s)

Kelsey Ziser

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Kelsey is a senior editor at Light Reading, co-host of the Light Reading podcast, and host of the "What's the story?" podcast.

Her interest in the telecom world started with a PR position at Connect2 Communications, which led to a communications role at the FREEDM Systems Center, a smart grid research lab at N.C. State University. There, she orchestrated their webinar program across college campuses and covered research projects such as the center's smart solid-state transformer.

Kelsey enjoys reading four (or 12) books at once, watching movies about space travel, crafting and (hoarding) houseplants.

Kelsey is based in Raleigh, N.C.

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