This article first appeared in Telecoms.com
We’ve all heard about the “race to 5G.” Since 2019, companies have wanted to claim the first, best and biggest 5G network. The industry reached the milestone of 100 devices from more than 40 vendors by August last year.
Then, COVID-19 happened. 5G rollout has temporarily slowed as service providers focus on network stability.
Nevertheless, COVID-19 has impacted consumers and involuntarily pushed them into the digital-first, connectivity-centric ecosystem that 5G will epitomize. However, some are still questioning if they need it or can afford it.
The industry needs to take a fresh look at what precisely consumers need from 5G, because in a year from now, we’ll see the pace of innovation grow around it tremendously.
COVID-19’s impact on 5G’s future
While 5G rollout will slow for now, the rise in virtual work and digital communications only highlights the need for more vigorous 5G and advanced Wi-Fi adoption worldwide. When service providers can bring their focus back to the rollout later this year or early 2021, there will be pent up consumer demand for devices, connectivity and innovative services.
Why? Because consumers will want the experiences they so seamlessly enjoyed indoors and take them anywhere, anytime. Yes, these tasks can all be handled over Wi-Fi, but COVID-19 has reset consumer expectations about how people will interact wherever they are.
Younger generations are especially invested in 5G’s future. New data from Amdocs found that of those consumers who would consider buying 5G smartphone or device now they are working at home, 62 percent were Gen Z and millennials.
COVID-19 has shown there is a proven demand in areas such as remote work collaboration, from any location. Even before the pandemic, our research found that 61 percent of consumers thought 5G would create more opportunities to work remotely with ubiquitous access. Additionally, 35 percent believed the technology would lead to better video conferencing options.
Looking into 5G’s crystal ball
With all its intelligence and potential, consumers still speculate 5G’s worth and cost, especially given the current economy downturn caused by COVID-19. From a device perspective, adoption-friendly 5G device prices will be the key to widespread uptake. With the 208 5G devices on the market today, we expect to see more affordable options.
This moment in time is demonstrating the potential of new business models as a jumping-off point into 5G. For example, young school children who struggle to engage on video conferencing will have a more immersive experience using AR technology. Artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology will add context to video conferences. And that’s just the beginning. 5G-enabled robots will also be used to greet and triage people in hospital reception or quarantine facilities enabling better social distancing in high-risk areas. We may already be shifting towards a remote life, but there are many aspects that can be greatly enhanced by 5G technology.
5G private enterprise networks will also enable advanced applications on-premise or at the edge. Medical centers and hospitals could have dedicated local networks rather than needing to rely on heavily congested public mobile and broadband networks. Manufacturing companies could use video monitoring and AI to remotely check the quality of production lines rather than sending people to the site.
Refocused business models and partnerships
We’ll also see reignited discussions between service providers and OTT players on two-sided business models. This is to ensure streamers have the capacity needed to stream content without compromise during times of heavy traffic.
Major streaming video providers were asked to reduce video quality to standard definition to battle congestion during the pandemic. Expect to see streamers working with communications service providers on solutions that allow consumers to access content in high definition during such times.
Now more than ever, service providers must create the right 5G experiences – and COVID-19 is showing us what might connect with consumers. As the race continues, COVID-19 is potentially the push the big players needed to get their work from the experimental phase, to the product phase, to the future world consumers will come to expect.