Anticipation and excitement is mounting. But what will the new technology mean in reality?
A year and a half. That’s how long we have to wait until 5G hits our pockets, providing your selected mobile is capable of picking up such super-fast ultra-quick wavelengths.
We’ve had the regulation announcements, we’ve had the appeals against those announcements, we’ve had the inevitably late auction and right now the testing is taking
Exciting isn’t it, all those new things that we are going to be able to do. But is anyone really sure what 5G will mean for consumers and businesses in the UK?
Now in the UK market, 4G rules the roost with posting, messaging and streaming all well within the realms of possibility, providing you have a consistent quality of signal.
So the importance of 5G can be underestimated at first glance, especially if we are already getting the most from our devices.
However if you said words to that effect to Fivebars managing director Martin Murphy, he’d argue a different view, one that is excited about what the new technology has in store for us.
He said: “A lot of what I am hearing is that 4G isn’t good enough so why do we need 5G? But I think people with those views are a bit short sighted. Right now we are living in a world where 4G will do the job but when you are talking about connected cars, drones and the Internet of Things, 5G is absolutely the way forward.”
Such enthusiasm isn’t all around though. The introduction of 3G and the current quality of the 4G network we receive, despite what the networks will tell you, has created a sense of trepidation and quiet optimism amongst dealers and even Murphy himself conceded that conversations with selected partners about the technology is “a slow burner”.
With eighteen months to go, 5G gets ready for the big time Anticipation and excitement is mounting. But what will the new technology mean in reality?
Mobile Corporate Communications sales director Tony Singh said that he thinks that there’s an element of networks controlling expectations when it comes to 5G after the last two generations of mobile connectivity.
He added: “[5G] is great to look forward to, moving away from voice and text messaging, having more and more uses going through data and faster speeds to the point where mobile internet dominates home broadband.
“But I think this time the networks are playing 5G down a bit and learning from what happened with 4G. For us dealers, we had a lot of issues about which network was going to be first, second and last and were kept waiting to the point where it ended up being a bit of a nightmare and we had customer churn because they couldn’t get connected.”
That lesson is one that Excalibur CEO Peter Boucher also pointed out. After serving at Vodafone during the launch of 3G he said the networks must start thinking about how they will make 5G appealing. “
I think it was in the late 90s that all the carriers spent an absolute fortune on 3G spectrum but they had given so little thought about what they were going to do with it.
“Once iPhone came and people had proper smartphones the networks had worked out how to tariff it and charge for it without ripping people off and the app developers had also got their heads around it.
“In the end you can factor in the iPhone but it probably then took three, four, even five years for the whole 3G jigsaw to be put together.”
The earliest estimation of a 5G rollout is by 2020 yet, in the last 12 months, officials in high offices have admitted that business cases for the new airwaves are scarce.
Understanding what a technology is is obviously crucial before investment. There is a bit of common knowledge with something as ostensibly this simple but, as The One
Point managing director Martin Lauer says, the technology is about a lot more than just quicker download speeds.
He said: “There is a little bit of a miscommunication when it comes to 5G. Yes, it is going to be faster but that isn’t the main benefit.
That will be latency, the time between requesting an action and the request being carried out, so when I want something to happen it will happen in real time.
“Second on the list of pros is battery life on mobile phones. At the moment, your average 3G or 4G phone is permanently searching for a network, it’s permanently saying give me a network and that is the biggest drain on a mobile.
“The technology of 5G is totally different. What it does is find the signal and locks onto it and, as a result, the network is going to be five times less draining on battery life, one of the biggest limitations of mobile working.”
Understanding the technology is one thing. Understanding how to use it and sell it to customers is another entirely. Conveying the 5G message has, so far, been left to the dealers.
Probing questions from customers about the technology may be welcome or a bit too early depending on who you are talking to. Either way everyone seems to be aware that it is coming.
“Some of our customers have asked about it and they kind of mention it because they have heard about it or they’ve read about it and ask when 5G is coming online” said Murphy.
“Whenever they ask I see it as a great opportunity to educate them but I don’t ask them what does 5G mean to you, because they usually say is that it’ll make our phones faster.
“Obviously there needs to be a business case there as well and it needs to be worth our while.
“That’s what we need to try to discover and make it good for everybody, make it good for us, good for the customer because we can’t do it for nothing.”
Singh said: “To be honest we try not to talk about it to customers unless they raise the question or talk about planning ahead.
“There are going to be a lot of great things to come and we tell our customers about that but we also say just prepare yourself, don’t think it’s all going to be rosy for the first six months to a year.
“It is going to take time for this new technology to settle and sometimes the networks jump the gun a bit in order to get it out at the same time as the competition.
“I know 5G is out there in other countries and we have been testing in the UK but testing is one thing.
“Trialling is another, rolling out is another thing so I would just say that the networks have got to make sure that they have got it right before they start to offer it to consumers.”
With customers interest peaked but still hesitant about 5G, perhaps the key to investing in the technology is showing it off first hand.
One such convert to the 5G bandwagon is The One Point managing director who admits that he was sceptical to start with but a demonstration in front of his very eyes tipped the scales in favour of the newly auctioned wavelengths.
“Before I saw it for myself in Barcelona I though it was just a bit faster,” said Lauer. “But then I understood the technology and how it works to the end user, how it locks on to a device and realised it is a different technology.
“To customers, all they see is a bigger number at the front and I don’t think people really know what 5G has to offer them.
“But when I give them a call and show them videos of 5G in action and talk them through how the technology is different they get very excited and they start thinking about what it means for their business.”
Boucher said that he encounters similar views about 5G and that it is more of a buzzword in the industry rather than a willingness to embrace the technology.
But he also added that, in his experience, 5G is not a priority for his customers. “We’re yet to get any real questions about 5G because no-one quite knows what it is really going to give us.
“I think even the Internet of Things is still really in its infancy but it feels like it’s no longer a buzz word, people are talking about it and we are starting to get some half decent ideas with houses and the hive but we haven’t really connected anything yet really, which is where 5G can come in.
Frankly, most of our customers are still trying to make sense of security of the device, they are more worried about GDPR and cyber security, company security and managing their bills.
“In saying that, we have had some really interesting conversations with half a dozen customers about what they could connect and monitor but even those could run off 4G if it was reliable.”
As Boucher hinted at, one of the obvious uses for a 5G connection is for ‘connected’ devices from the Internet of Things such as sensors, cameras and even drones.
Although it was brought into the market years ago, dealers said that IoT is only now starting to gain some interest from customers, supported by Gartner who predict spend on IoT devices, including those reliant on a mobile connection, will reach $190 billion (£143bn) by 2019.
But even the most optimistic of observers would have to concede that there is very little evidence as to what businesses are going to be able to do with 5G that cannot be achieved with 4G.
Murphy said: “We can talk about driverless cars and drones and VR, having such low latency, but you can’t really notice it with 4G now.
“With 5G it’s not there, there is no latency, it’s live and to have that connected environment is the way forward and to have it within 18 months is very exciting but obviously it needs to further compensate the end user and people’s businesses.
“We’re taking stuff to customers now but it’s a slow burner we are not just going to turn up and they’ll say “yeah, that’s great, let’s go ahead with that”, there needs to be a business case there as well and it needs to be worth our while.”
Lauer agreed but added that the battery saving aspect of the technology may be enough to sway some businesses to adopt the technology, especially if they are on the move.
He said: “Right now, in terms of speeds, 4G does cut the mustard but it only just cuts the mustard and, for true mobile working, it kills the battery life.
“Our NHS customers, for example, have to carry battery packs and have in-car chargers for their device to make it through the day.
“If you are using any device on the market right now and using it to an industrial scale such as seeing 10 to 15 patients in their homes a day and updating patient care records on the device in the living room the traditional device will not last.
“So I think that the real appeal will come from a combination of stuff happening as you request it and battery life under 4G being the biggest inhibitor of true mobile working, which 5G will be able to fix.”