As an industry, we have to be careful not to over-hype 5G, warned Ralph de la Vega, AT&T’s vice chairman in a keynote panel discussion at Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona this week.
But 5G networks were very much on the agenda of much of the discussions at MWC, with nearly all the keynote speakers referencing this new network technology at some point in their presentations. Vodafone’s chief executive Vittorio Colao said 5G will accelerate what he termed “the gigabit society”, a society built on very high network speed, low latency and the secure exchange of data.
Colao predicted that the next five years will shape society as the new technology will redefine both the enterprise and consumer sectors, and the general consensus in the different discussions held throughout the day was that the industry will see the first real signs of 5G in 2018, and that it will pick up speed in 2020.
In this “gigabit society”, said Colao, efficiency and productivity will dramatically increase, not just because of better human connectivity, but also because assets, enabled by the internet of things (IoT), will also become productive. New networks will enable enterprises to scale easily and enjoy flexible costs, creating new business models.
Where’s the ROI for service providers?
Such disruption, however, comes at a cost for the established order. The wave of mobile disruption over the last two decades has led to less than 50 percent of the companies on the Fortune 500 list of 20 years ago still featuring on it, the Vodafone chief executive noted. And whereas it has been people doing the disrupting until now in the form of Uber or Airbnb, in the 5G world, it will be devices making the disruption explained Intel CEO Brian Krzanich,
Both Colao and de la Vega stressed the need for governments around the world to adopt pro-investment policies and regulation in order to help service providers deploy 5G networks. The AT&T vice chairman talked about the need “to earn an appropriate return on our investment,” while the Vodafone leader was more blunt, complaining that governments sometimes saw operators “as a lemon to be squeezed.”
Interestingly, the major benefit of 5G does not necessarily lie in connectivity, argued Deutsche Telekom’s chief technical officer, Bruno Jacobfeuerborn. He insisted that the real value of 5G rested in its ability to manage the end user’s digital life, ensuring a seamless experience wherever or whatever the consumer was doing, in both a secure and private manner.
In just a few years’ time, we’ll be able to judge for ourselves