Without a Killer App, Who Needs 5G?

With all the 5G promises, phone customers upgrading are expecting amazing things, from hologram calls to augmented reality. We’re not even close.

According to a big, bleak new report from Ericsson, wireless carriers around the world aren’t offering new services that make consumers really want 5G.

Five Ways to Better 5G states that 70% of consumers are dissatisfied with the “availability of new services” on 5G and “expect new applications” that they are not getting. The report says consumers will be willing to pay 20-30% more for things like 5G TV, 5G in-car entertainment, 360-degree livestream events, and instant, responsive cloud access. But, well, nothing like that is happening.

Wouldn’t you love to live in a world where 5G lets us do all this cool stuff? me too.

It’s not for the lack of vision. I’ve been hearing about 5G applications for years. Here’s a 5G Hackathon I went to in 2017! In 2019, Sprint struck a deal with cloud gaming service Hatch for 5G game streaming. But both the carrier and the cloud gaming service have gone out of business, which is the problem in a nutshell. Until carriers offer a truly differentiated network experience, everyone is trying to make a killer app.

Coverage is a big problem, the report said, with people particularly disappointed in 5G coverage at home. T-Mobile has a dazzling mid-band 5G network, but Verizon and AT&T have a “nationwide” 5G experience with basically just 4G sprinkled in. Next month we’re going back on the road for our annual fastest mobile network tests, and my biggest dream is to find some evidence that 5G speeds are starting to get where they need to be so that these exciting dreams can become a reality.

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And plans for the upcoming Mobile World Congress point to a focus shift for the industry. Abandoned by most consumer handset makers, MWC has re-established itself as a place to talk about enterprise 5G, and a lot of the buzz is now around “private” 5G networks. It’s interesting stuff for us network nerds, but nothing like the consumer 5G vision that was just being cut a few years ago.

Hopefully, the folks at Verizon are working hard to force new apps to go along with its launch of C-band 5G early next year. Otherwise, it would still be hard to get more than 80% of Americans to upgrade to a 4G phone.

Which App on Ericsson’s Grid Really Makes You Say “Yay, 5G!” Will you force me to say? Let me know in the comments.

What else happened this week?

  • Intel and Qualcomm both announced 5G M.2 cards, making it easier to pour 5G into desktops and laptops. Intel says more than 30 laptop models will be available with 5G by the end of this year. However, existing 5G laptops have seen slow growth, probably because people would prefer to use their phone hotspot instead of signing up for another expensive service plan.

  • Verizon is trying to pump up its most expensive unlimited plans by offering huge phone discounts: $700 for the iPhone or $800 for the Galaxy S21 5G, with a relatively recent trade-in. About 16% of Americans have 5G devices right now, but all the new capability is coming to 5G, so carriers need to somehow motivate people to get 5G phones.

  • The power war takes a potentially incendiary turn with Xiaomi’s 200-watt charger. It probably uses new concepts such as splitting a battery into multiple cells that charge in parallel, and charge pumps. Xiaomi’s product is unlikely to arrive in the US, but OnePlus is going ahead with applying similar technology to US phones.

  • Verizon expands Home Internet to seven more cities, for a total of 40. Verizon’s home internet system looks great on paper: 300 Mbps or more, truly unlimited use, $50 per month for Verizon Wireless customers and $70/month for everyone else. The tricky part is how little it covers each city. When we looked last year, we were disappointed when trying to sign up with addresses in Chicago and Minneapolis. We should try again soon.

Read more 5G race:

  • Google doesn’t care how much we want the Pixel 6

  • Is Google about to dump Qualcomm?

  • Simple phone: great after all these years

  • How Apple, Samsung and even Sony are killing phones

  • Don’t Fall For This 5G Con Game

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