5G launch reaction: consumers, dealers and analysts

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Mobile News gathers the views from the street and the industry on EE’s 5G debut

On May 30, EE became the UK’s first network to launch 5G, via the new OnePlus 7 Pro 5G device.

On a sunny morning, Mobile News headed down to the operator’s Cheapside branch, where EE was holding a launch event in collaboration with Chinese manufacturer OnePlus.

The launch saw a select number of OnePlus 6T users get a free 7 Pro 5G and contract, with EE CEO Marc Allera there to help hand out the country’s first devices to use the new technology.

The launch was a coup for the Chinese vendor, which like Xiaomi and Oppo is hoping to make waves in the UK’s premium smartphone space with strong devices at competitive prices.

Although OnePlus has fewer than 1,000 employees, it has made its way into the top five for global market share in the premium smartphone market, according to Counterpoint Research. The launch of the 7 Pro 5G comes ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Oppo Reno 5G and LG V50 ThinQ 5G.

Mobile News also spoke to consumers, dealers and analysts in the weeks following the launch to get their views on what the technology means for general users and businesses.

Consumers

Sanjay, consumer

I’m excited about 5G, and I want to see how quick it is compared to 4G. But I’m more excited about the new
phone and all its features, especially the pop-up selfie camera.

The display is also supposed to be one of the best. I’ve been watching a lot of reviews and they talk about the 90Hz refresh rate, which is supposed to be one of the smoothest experiences of any phone.

I really like the colours as well, especially nebula blue, which changes depending on how the light hits the phone. I was happy with my 6T, which was the first OnePlus I’ve owned. I’ve known about the brand for a while and I don’t have any complaints about it (I’m normally in London).

The concern I have is how quickly my data will be used up. I’ve got 30GB and hopefully that should be enough – I’m quite a heavy user, watching videos and streaming music when I’m out and about.

Henry, tech enthusiast

The big draw for me is the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G. I’ve been a fan of their smartphones since the very first one and currently have the 6T which was the las one they released.

For me, it has all the features you want: the camera, data connectivity and price point are all great. To be honest, 4G is great, so I’m waiting to see what the extra oomph of 5G delivers. I’m happy with 4G, as it does the job, and it remains to be seen what 5G can do. Basically I need some more convincing.

Alpay, OnePlus fan,

I’m here for OnePlus. We’re going to find out about 5G later because it’s new and no one really knows about it.

But everyone knows that OnePlus makes fast phones. I’ve known about OnePlus for about a year and the 6T is an amazing phone, much better than an iPhone.

For me, OnePlus is better than Huawei too – I don’t like the curve on Huawei phones. OnePlus has great speed, storage and battery life, and much better price points. I live in London, so I’ll benefit from 5G.

Jay Freeman, software manager

I travel around the country quite a bit and I struggle with 4G, so I’m hoping the rollout of 5G will change that.

As a business customer I need to be connected all the time. People know 5G is coming, but may think it’s just another 4G iteration and a lot of knowledge transfer needs to happen publicly.

4G was a bit of a let-down a few years ago, and we’re now using the internet a lot more than when it was released. We need an infrastructure change, and 5G can deliver that. I think it will also lend itself more to the AI side of things, helping seamlessly connect to cars and other things.

Dealers

Marshall Frieze, managing director, The One Solution

I don’t think 5G will be quite as quick a transition as from 3G to 4G. There are no Apple handsets, and you’d expect the market leaders to be on board a bit more than they actually are. That probably takes us to September or October before any iPhone releases – and will they be 5G enabled? It’s not guaranteed. We need new
infrastructure and that will take more time, so it’s going to be transitional. But any kind of change that creates
a more speedy solution or connectivity is great for business.

We delivered about 100 handsets to a Leeds-based organisation recently, which asked where we stand on the tariff and the hardware. The honest answer is ‘How
long is a piece of string?’. We’ve got no definite national release date.

The client is taking iPhone XSs and XRs, so we’re probably looking further down the line before we can say we can give them a national coverage solution for 5G. The majority of clients I’m dealing with currently are using Apple because of the Development Enrolment Program. Larger organisations like to configure that together with their MDM solutions. If not then we’d probably be using Samsung and Samsung Knox. Huawei is not a piece of kit we would be selling on a day-to-day basis.

Steve Heald, managing director, A1 Comms

As other networks produce their propositions, some of our business clients are already intrigued by the potential of 5G in their businesses.

Business users in major conurbations increasingly need to access data systems and connect to other people more and more rapidly.

We’re all consuming lots more data on the move, and people are intrigued to see what the performance benefits of 5G are. The demonstrations I’ve seen from various networks on its potential are exciting for businesses, with the idea that they’ll be able to do more.

5G is making people now take the high speeds of 4G for granted. We start to see that those speeds are already pushing the boundary, and everyone’s keen to see what the next level will bring. More people are using lots of data, while business use for activities such as remote working is proving popular.

One customer is using 4G in new office locations in central London and is excited by the prospect of 5G giving them a phenomenal WiFi broadband service.

We’re happy with the information we receive from EE. As a partner, we’ve been given requirements to do business, tariffs, handsets, coverage checkers, information and training for 5G.

Rakesh Singh, managing director, Zero7 Communications

There has not been much discussion around 5G within the business area: we’ve not had those kinds of conversations with businesses yet, and I think the reason for that is the lack of 5G handsets. Most of my customers are predominantly Apple-based and they may be aware that 5G is there, but maybe not that the handset they want is available yet.

The key is educating business customers on the benefits of 5G. So many people have already bought the iPhone XS and other new kit. Had they known the first 5G rollout was going to be as early as June, some may have held off on their upgrades.

I think end users are aware that the technology is being deployed, but it will take until it becomes more widely available for it to catch on. The real noise will be made in the next three or four months; I haven’t seen any 5G advertising yet.

I think the noise around technology will be there soon, but no one’s talking about it. I still think we’re a few months away. There are a lot of businesses that cannot currently get a reliable broadband speed: 5G WiFi could be a solution for this.”

Charmaine de Souza, managing director, Business Mobiles

It’s a hugely exciting conversation starter. Realistically speaking, the knowledge level of most clients on what
they can do with their handsets is still at 3G level and they don’t really understand a lot of apps and facilities that they’re able to use for their businesses on 4G. So asking them to understand what 5G means to them is a little bit far off. I think we won’t push the majority of our customers onto it until they’ve got a really good reason and it becomes more widely available. A couple of years from now, it will be amazing.

I don’t foresee it being too long until we find the benefits, but at the minute I’m looking for more IoT applications that will help those clients because once we find them, it’s going to be obvious for them to move onto 5G immediately even with the extra cost.

People are asking the questions and are intrigued, but there’s not a massive jump to get on board. Our clients are now wise to the fact that just because something new is released, they don’t necessarily need to buy it straight away. There has to be a good business case to do it.

It’s typical of the networks to leave things until the last minute, but once things have launched they’ve been very communicative, they’re sending out information and there’s a lot of available training out there. But 5G needs more widespread collaboration than 4G did to make it useful. The number of patents going through in relation to 5G and IoT is enormous, so once those things become available, that’s when we’ll see a huge upsurge.

Analysts

Rob Baillie, mobile comms expert, comparemymobile.com

EE is the first carrier to bring 5G to the UK, and it has certainly been a long time coming. While it’s important to document today as a landmark for the mobile industry and a technological advance for the UK, this should be put into context: let’s first of all note that this service is only being rolled out in six UK cities, so unless you live in or near one of those areas, it would not be worth upgrading just yet.

Secondly, prospective users will be required to upgrade to 5G-compatible handsets and fork out for a 5G-ready contract, which are pricier than their 4G counterparts. The cheapest deal on the market starts at £54 per month, with a hefty £170 upfront fee, coming with just 10GB of data. What’s more, the limited rollout means users with 5G contracts will still find themselves on the slower 4G network much of the time – so they’ll effectively be paying more money for the same service when travelling outside
the six cities.

It’s definitely true that today marks a great step in the right direction, but it will probably take some time before 5G is commonplace and people can make the most of it. Unless you are desperate to switch to the faster network, it would make more sense to wait until more networks offer the service so you can take advantage of competitive deals, as well as allow for teething problems to be overcome.

Kester Mann, director, consumer and connectivity, CCS Insight

5G is a big deal; the move from 4G is much more evolutionary than the move from 3G to 4G. With 5G, it is going to be a longer burn to gain traction among consumers, but it will come and some benefits will be felt over the next year. 5G is a hard sell, and I don’t expect EE to make as much of a splash as with 4G.

Brands like OnePlus and Oppo aren’t well known in the UK. That’s a challenge, although the devices are very good. The biggest issue is Apple. When EE launched 4G, it started with the iPhone 5, but we’re not going to have a 5G iPhone until at least the fourth quarter of next year.

The enterprise market will see most of the action for 5G. That’s the greatest opportunity for telcos, which are probably right to start positioning to businesses. We’ll also start to get some more interesting applications: looking at 5G for cities, the public sector and communities, there could be some real opportunities there.

But I don’t think the operators are losing sight of 4G coverage either. They need to invest in the future, but there’s a lot of work to be done on the 4G side in rural areas while 5G takes time to gain momentum. Three and O2 will watch EE positioning and pricing.

EE is talking about a premium for 5G, which could be an interesting one to watch, as well as how content is bundled into the package. It’s just the beginning for 5G and it’s limited at the moment – but it will build from there.

Ernest Doku, head of commercial for mobiles and broadband, uSwitch

EE definitely stole a march on Vodafone in terms of coming to market first. It was a stealth launch. For EE to have a decent suite of devices on preorder and be the launch partner of OnePlus was exciting.

We’ve long been talking about the UK languishing behind when it comes to 5G or 4G speeds, so to be able to put a stake in the ground and have a demonstrable speed boost in a small number of major cities is good to see – and there’s a huge amount of work to be done conveying that value.

Early adopters tend towards OnePlus and Samsung a bit more than towards the iPhone. But as soon as there’s a 5G iPhone, there will be a groundswell of consumers who will find it an exciting device. To launch with OnePlus is a shrewd move, with the Huawei situation leading to the likes of OnePlus and Oppo getting more of the spotlight. But I think it’s the right kind of alignment they’ve had for the early adopters.

3G and 4G coverage are still not where they need to be for a significant number of consumers and enterprises. There’s work to be done to ensure that 4G coverage is sufficient, as opposed to creating pockets of consumers that will benefit even further from a leap to 5G.

Ingo Flömer, VP of business development and technology, Cobham Wireless

5G will unlock new consumer and business use cases. However, the new connectivity standard fails to address a the lack of reliable mobile connectivity in many underconnected areas of the UK. “Not spots” don’t only exist in villages and rural areas of the country: getting 4G mobile coverage is also still a massive challenge on major overground rail routes and in tunnels, as well as in infrastructure like sports stadiums, airports and music venues.

5G might present lucrative business and consumer cases, yet there’s a lot of revenue still to be unlocked by deploying 4G: with in-stadium services to enhance the fan experience, for example, or ad-supported mobile streaming for media and entertainment on commuter trains.

There will come a time when blanket 5G coverage is needed, but more important is adequate 4G mobile coverage now to guarantee quality of service for consumers, and support business and operator growth in all areas in the UK.

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