Which Parts of Ecosystem Will 5G Disrupt?

The 5G network should prove disruptive to participants in other parts of the ecosystem, as well as to new ecosystems. That arguably has been the case in the past, so we should be watching for what happens, to whom, and where.

The first generation of mobile created alternatives to fixed phone lines, triggering the huge mobile substitution trend that has decimated use of fixed voice services.

The 2G network created the text messaging business and also demolished the paging business.

The 3G network enabled mobile email and then mobile internet. Most likely would agree that 4G enabled tethering of PCs and other devices, plus video consumption and smartphones with pleasant user experience when accessing cloud data.

But 4G also largely displaced MP3 players and pocket cameras.   

It would be unusual indeed if the coming 5G network did not cannibalize some existing communications functions and roles; industry segments or participants.

Some will point to fixed internet access as a potential early casualty, as the mobile network--operating in fixed mode--could compete head to head with fixed services for the first time on a massive scale. Up to this point, some percentage of consumers already has learned to substitute mobile access for fixed access.

But that has been a limited phenomenon, generally favored by mobile-only users who do not watch much video. The 5G network might change all that. In fact, even unlimited mobile data, or exempting streaming video from usage charges, might already be creating such habits.

The 5G network should be different than prior mobile generations for many reasons. It should become the first generation of mobile networks to enable use by machines, sensors and servers, rather than humans. Faster and lower-latency mobile broadband will be a feature humans will notice, to be sure.

But the primary new categories of usage is expected to be by sensor networks of various types whose requirements are not so much bandwidth as low latency or low cost.

Also, 5G should be the first mobile network that integrates multiple networks, organically, for access (licensed and unlicensed; owned and third party assets). In other words, 5G will be more virtualized than prior generations.

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