Does 5G "Leadership" Matter?
In some counties, and for some companies, "leadership" in 5G is believed to matter. That arguably is the case for companies and countries that believe 5G creates big markets (internal or export markets). Such leadership might also be believed to matter for firms in markets where 4G opportunities are now saturated, and therefore growth limited.
For yet other firms, marketing leadership is the goal, as claims to "lead in 4G" now are erased.
Whatever the objective merits of such claims, it frequently is claimed in telecommunications that one or another country or region is falling behind, or behind, on some measure of information technology or communications. Sometimes, both “lagging” and not "falling behind" claims are heard about the very same markets.
Recall that observers in Europe have expressed fears of falling behind since at least 2007. In other words, we have heard expressions of concern for a decade, based largely on perceived performance on 4G adoption metrics.
In some part, such claims represent concerns about private interests, as it always is the case that for every valid public policy, there is a corresponding private interest (financial winners and losers). Lagging adoption means less revenue for hardware, software or service providers, whatever other broad social and economic benefits are said to be lacking and lagging.
Still, it is fair to note that, having considered themselves generally global leaders in the 3G era, infrastructure, app and service providers in Europe virtually all agree that was not the case for the 4G era, and is shaping up not to be the case for 5G, either, where most observers likely agree that Asia and North America appear poised to “lead.”
Such anxieties, some would argue, must be taken in perspective. It nearly always is possible to hear one group or another point out that the United States is “behind” the best performing countries (often including Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Finland and some others on measures of internet access speed, for example.
Also, over time, such differences become far less pronounced. In other words, “quantity” virtually never, on a long enough period of time, remains highly disparate.
It is more germane to argue that many observers believe measures of “quantity,” while useful, are not the same as the harder to measure issue of “quality.” Consider a now-non-controversial example: use of voice services.
In the past, the United States has been said to be “behind” in spectrum auctions, behind in use of mobility services overall,
In voice adoption, the best the United States ever ranked was about 15th, among nations of the world, for teledensity. Still, virtually nobody considered that a real big problem. It was a problem for rural users, yes, but a problem “at the margin.”
There are a few good reasons for such rankings It is harder to connect everyone in continent-sized areas, and harder to connect everyone in areas of low population density. For such reasons, the United States has not, and never will, rank at the very top of teledensity measures for fixed network services.
The point is that “quantity” is not always the most-relevant measure of “qualitative” impact. It may not matter whether a particular country ranks first, 15th or even 50th on some quantitative measure. The issue is that relevant benefits are obtained.
We tend to believe (without clear knowledge of causation) that widespread, high quality internet access promotes economic development, for example. We all certainly behave as though that were true.
But it actually is not possible to “prove” this is the case. It likely is equally true that high economic growth and high national incomes “produce” high use of internet and internet access, as to prove the case that high internet access “produces” high income or economic output.
The upshot is that however real the concerns about progress towards 5G, much can, and will, change, going forward. Moving early is not a guarantee of “ultimate success,” nor is “lagging” always a problem.
In fact, should big new markets not develop, moving early on 5G might prove financially dangerous.