Rohde and Schwarz’s recent Survey on the State of 5G: Where We Are Today asked industry professionals to analyze their own—and their peers’—understanding of 5G, and the result underscore the fact that consumers are generally wary of the complexity of our inevitable 5G future.
This article examines not only respondents’ basic understanding of 5G, but also their level of planning and preparedness for the technology, their opinions about where 5G will have the greatest impact, and what they feel will be the biggest barriers to success. What’s more clear than ever is that 5G upon us, and we’re on the brink of another lifestyle revolution.
The hype surrounding 5G has reached a fever pitch. By all accounts, the next-generation wireless network is poised to revolutionize communications on a massive scale—from the tiniest Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to automated vehicles to the largescale workings of manufacturing and health care. With a new 5G foundation, we’ll see unprecedented evolutions in not only communications but also in our economy and our society. No pressure, right?
Without question, 5G is a complex technology! It involves a brand-new radio interface—the 5G New Radio (5G NR)—and a completely new network architecture that will form the basis for communications systems going forward. And it’s a radical departure from the ongoing 2G/3G/4G evolution in that it uses frequency bands that we’ve never utilized in commercial cellular service before—spanning from the low-end FR1 band (less than 6 GHz) to the high-end FR2 band (28 GHz to 39 GHz in the United States), also known as millimeter-wave. In this new reality, operators (at least, at first) will need to balance network load between 3G, 4G LTE, and 5G across all these frequency layers, and handovers will need to be managed among various technologies but also between different vendors.
In many ways, 5G is an unproven territory. Today, operators are embarking upon various strategies for which frequency bands to focus on and how they want to deploy their networks—so the real work is just starting. It makes sense, then, that in our recent survey on the State of 5G: Where We Are Today, the vast majority of respondents (70%) to the question—“Do you own a 5G phone today?”—are either waiting for 5G to mature or waiting for the technology to be available on the market-leading iPhone before they dive in. This particular answer—considering that our survey focused on communications professionals and early technology users such as mobile operators, device and component manufacturers, equipment installers, and market consultants—highlights the enduring complexity of 5G.
Indeed, the world’s evolution to its 5G future is not something that will happen overnight. Rather, the findings of our survey point to a gradual, even careful introduction to 5G—with a hungry curiosity for what comes next and what the new network will make possible.
Given 5G’s inherent complexity, there’s some concern that it’s already bewildering its user base. A recent CNET article found that a third of Americans believe they’re already using 5G on their phones. According to the article, “Whilst 5G may be the word on everyone’s lips, many Americans don’t truly understand this upgrade to the mobile network.” In our Survey on the State of 5G, therefore, we wanted to ask two very simple questions of our ahead-of-the-curve respondents: First, “How well you do feel you understand 5G technology?” And second, “How well do you feel people throughout your organization understand 5G technology?” The results were revealing.
When gauging their understanding of the technology, respondents (again, early tech adopters) gave themselves an above-average rating of just over 4 out of 5. But when the question was directed toward peers, the answer dropped to around 3 out of 5. If you’ve been involved in the communications realm for years, you’re bound to be more fluent in technologies such as 5G, but if you’re among the typical consumer base, you might have a more rudimentary understanding of what’s to come. For most people, there’s still a lot to learn! Especially as 5G charges toward full deployment, and the technology is gradually rolled out and commercialized, we’re going to see a lot of lessons learned in real-time.
And that gradual rollout is key to the 5G future and people’s grasp of its capabilities. Many of the involved technologies are— in the early stages—expected to leverage the 4G LTE network in addition to the non-standalone (NSA) version of 5G. These early NSA deployments will focus on improved mobile broadband by providing higher data bandwidth and consistent connectivity. In essence, existing 4G infrastructure will provide an early launching pad for 5G networks, and eventually, that scenario will give way to a true 5G core network and access network.
In the meantime, however, people may be experiencing understandable wariness of 5G—for the simple reason of its complexity and the sense of societal upheaval that many are predicting it will initiate. A quick look at the technological cycles that have preceded 5G show that the phases have become shorter with each successive technology: The 3G cycle was in the 12–13-year range, the 4G cycle was in the 9–10-year range and 5G cycle are looking like 7–8 years. So, it’s understandable that consumers might feel behind the curve, and that a forthcoming technological revolution might have them in a defensive posture.
- How well you do feel you understand 5G technology? 4 out of 5
- How well do you feel people throughout your organization understand 5G technology? 3 out of 5
Planning for 5G
It’s undeniably true that 5G represents an exciting advancement in communications, but unlike previous generations of wireless technology, 5G lacks one specific “killer app.” Whereas 3G is known for bringing mobile data to the phone, and 4G introduced an array of new services and apps for mobile use, 5G’s appeal is far broader. The approach of 5G requires an entirely new conversation because mobile communications are only one aspect of myriad use cases involving many diverse verticals. Industries as disparate as manufacturing (with its with smart factories, automation, and robotics), automotive (with its self-driving cars, computer assistance, and enhanced security), agriculture (with its improved crop management and fertilizer/pesticide tracking), and health care (with its telemedicine, remote and VR/AR monitoring, and AI) will all see a significant impact from 5G.
By its very nature, 5G has the capability and flexibility to address a wide range of applications—those requiring high or low data rates, high and low latency, VR/AR functionality, real-time gaming aspects, and so on—so the notion of planning for 5G will be a unique process depending on the type or size or even region of the individual business. As an up-to-the-minute example, consider how some companies might be impacted by Coronavirus: The pandemic is already affecting those businesses’ willingness to travel to conferences or trade shows. In those cases, 5G will make it easier for them to attend virtual trade shows or take part in virtual learnings.
What mobile technologies is your company involved with today? 74 % 4G/LTE
We wanted to get a sense of where companies are today in their 5G preparedness. Our survey asked, “What mobile technologies is your company involved with today?” Today, the majority of respondents (74%) are still involved with the current technology, 4G LTE, which—again—will form the basis of 5G NR, especially in the NSA version. After that, diminishing percentages are involved with 4G LTE Advanced Pro (63%), 5G Rel 15 (60%), 5G Rel 16 (44%), and 5G Rel 17 (32%)—the latter two of which remain far out on the horizon, with only 11% of early adopters looking into 6G. The clear indication is that companies become involved with new mobile technologies as features become available—and perhaps more important will become more interested in 5G as they recognize use cases that they can take unique advantage of.
More pointedly, our survey asked, “Does your organization have definitive plans and strategies in place for 5G?” Nearly 73% of respondents said yes. Many businesses are successfully preparing for 5G today so that—when the time comes—they can achieve the technology’s much-talked-about performance improvements. Whether a given business will experience 5G’s inevitable impact this year or three years from now, it’s going to happen. Preparation is key.
The number of respondents who said no to the same question (about 27%) could point to the fact that business goals can be difficult to define when the process of determining exactly how 5G will benefit a certain company is unclear. Also, it’s important to remember that 5G hardware will be more expensive than 4G hardware, and the prospect of loading up a business environment with 5G-ready equipment is daunting.
Does your organization have definitive plans and strategies in place for 5G?
- Yes: 73%
- No: 27%
Where Will 5G Have the Biggest Impact?
Our survey asked respondents to rank, from 1 to 5, where they believed 5G would have the biggest impact. The answers revealed a rather balanced range of answers, with mobile Internet speeds taking the highest average ranking (3.48), smart factories and automation coming in a close second (3.41), VR/AR applications taking third (3.04), self-driving vehicles capturing fourth (2.64), and unforeseen use cases rounding out the list (2.62). These somewhat equalized answers seem to reinforce the notion that 5G will offer something for everybody—depending on the vertical that most interests them.
It’s revealing to compare these results with the use cases we would have seen with 4G. Whereas 4G’s benefits were seen as largely communications-based, 5G’s appeal is unprecedentedly wide. The market has only begun to predict the use cases that 5G will deliver, and even those are being painted with broad strokes. Ideas and research avenues surrounding 5G are popping up daily, revealing new potential use cases, and there are many more on the horizon that we haven’t even thought of yet. It’s thanks to 5G’s flexible architecture that will be ready to serve a wide variety of applications.
In addition to the popular use cases mentioned in the previous section (manufacturing, automotive, agriculture, and health care), 5G is poised to make a substantial impact on countless other use cases—areas such as media and entertainment (opportunities in TV, sports, advertising, and interactive technologies like VR/AR), retail (mobile shopping, virtual store experiences, VR dressing rooms), financial services (digitization of financial institutions, instant transactions on smartphones, remote and VR tellers), and energy and utilities (enhanced smart grid features and efficiency). The truth is, consumers aren’t quite sure yet where 5G will be most useful! Part of the fun will be finding out.
Rank 1-5 where you believe 5G will have the biggest impact:
- Mobile internet speeds: 3.48
- Smart factories and automation: 3.41
- VR/AR applications: 3.04
- Self-driving vehicles: 2.64
- Unforeseen use cases: 2.62
What Do People See as the Barriers of Success in 5G?
Without question, 5G will have a massive impact on not only the communications sector but society itself—once the network is rolled out on a large scale. However, getting 5G to that largescale deployment comes with some challenges. Will there be significant barriers during the process that could hobble 5G before it has a chance to fulfill its enormous potential?
Our survey addressed specific factors that may represent barriers in the way of initial 5G success, asking respondents to rate them as “major,” “moderate,” or “minor” challenges—or “no challenge.” Nearly half of respondents (46%) pointed to a lack of applications or services as the most likely major barrier. Perhaps that result suggests a lurking concern that the industry
Rate specific factors that may represent major barriers in the way of initial 5G success.
- 46% Lack of applications/services
- 35% Device and/or network complexity
- 33% Cost to consumer
- 33% Lack of available chipsets or components
- 29% Lack of consumer/market demand
- 25% Incomplete specifications
- 21% Inability to overcome MFG or production issues
is building 5G for its own sake, rather than for any real-world drivers. The counterpoint to that concern, of course, is that if people desire a connected, data-driven society in which information is at our fingertips, characterized by fiber-optic speeds in a wireless environment—then we need 5G technology as a foundation.
Three other “major barriers” concerned respondents’ attitudes regarding the involved hardware—device/network complexity (35%), lack of available chipsets/components (33%), and cost to the consumer (33%). Complexity is certainly an issue, considering that 5G is not the typical upgrade from the previous network generation but rather a total overhaul of the communications infrastructure unlike any we’ve seen in history, involving brand-new communications frequencies, an innovative mesh of antenna forms and functionalities, and a new foundational architecture and core network. When it comes to available chipsets and components, that always seems to be a short-term issue—but then vendors such as Qualcomm come to the plate, getting hardware quickly to market. As far as the cost to consumers, it’s important to remember that the mobile phones’ price tags are already approaching $1,500 in isolated cases, and as with previous generations we’ll probably see various phones become available at different price points, so cost is unlikely to be a significant barrier as we move forward.
If you look at the “moderate” and “minor” barriers that respondents identified, the inability to overcome manufacturing or production issues stands out—and, indeed, 5G presents new challenges in these areas. Historically, the manufacturing environment has been forgiving with traditional mobile phone systems, but testing is far more difficult when millimeter-wave frequencies are involved. High-volume manufacturing quickly becomes challenging. As an example, base station antennas—often composed of an array of 64–128 antennas—must be delicately calibrated and aligned for 5G. Mobile phones themselves will need complex 5G-ready antenna placement inside and outside the device, and that in itself will pose a challenge for manufacturing in high-volume environments. ©
The results of our survey underscore the fact that consumers are generally wary of the complexity of our inevitable 5G future. It’s a complicated web of technologies, some of which we’ve never attempted on such a large-scale commercial basis. So it’s perhaps comforting that a revolutionary undertaking such as 5G is not being solely undertaken by the mobile communications sector but rather as a strategic endeavor involving many vertical industries. Everybody is talking about how 5G will impact their business—and we may see those impacts faster in some segments and slower in others.
Most companies seem to be following the typical technology release cycle on their approach to 5G. Businesses are conceivably heartened by the fact that 4G LTE will initially play a large role in the 5G network foundation. At first, 5G will be bootstrapped on top of LTE, providing supplemental and enhanced coverage—first in dense urban areas, where network densification and more base stations are feasible, and then gradually into rural areas. Most consumers seem to find reassurance in the slow-and-steady approach.
But on the flip side of such a cautious rollout is the lesson of history: Even when 3G debuted, a lot of people said the same thing: “It seems like technology for the sake of technology! Do we need this?” But then network architectures improved, and suddenly people were surfing the Internet on their phones and playing with Facebook—activities we’re now addicted to. In retrospect, the value of technological upgrades is clear. It can be difficult to gauge the value of unforeseen lifestyle revolutions, especially when they become commonplace so quickly. With 5G upon us, and ready to deliver blazing speeds and super-low latencies, we’re on the brink of another lifestyle revolution. Are you ready?
Source: Rohde and Schwarz