Saturday, October 27, 2018

What is the Killer App for 5G?

Early on in the 3G era, video calling was a hoped-for new “killer app.” That did not happen. But it has become commonplace on 4G networks. In a similar way, content services were expected to flourish in the 3G era. That did not happen until 4G.

Augmented reality apps were supposed to develop on 3G networks. That still has not happened.

In fact, many would find it hard to point to a killer app  for 3G. Eventually, new apps do emerge. And some might say the early value of 4G was just speed.  

You might argue text messaging was the new killer use case for 2G. You might suggest mobile email and Internet access was the legacy of 3G. Video entertainment is developing as the singular new app that defines 4G.

Internet of things is expected to drive the futuristic new use cases for 5G. Many believe 5G fixed wireless, though, will represent the early new use cases, beyond bolstering consumer internet access speeds and augmenting 4G capacity in geographic areas where congestion is an issue on busy cell sites.  

Still, it is fair to say we are likely to be surprised by what 5G brings, or fails to bring, as has been the case for the other next G mobile networks.

Among the possible surprises could well be that hoped-for new use cases do not flourish in the 5G era, but take longer to reach near-ubiquity. That is why some believe 5G will wind up being more like 3G--a platform whose innovation lagged expectations--than 4G, a network platform that some would argue largely developed on the promise of new apps enabled by greater capacity.

As was the case for 4G, which provided significantly faster speeds, making video consumption feasible, 5G will boost access speeds, by an even greater margin. But the bigger long-term change is the shift to ultra-low latency.

It would be a reasonable supposition that use cases for higher speed will develop sooner, with greater scale, than use cases for ultra-low latency. And that is why some believe 5G might be more like 3G than 4G.

The wild card is the role of enterprise apps and use cases. Some of us argue that what makes 5G clearly different from all prior mobile generations is that brand-new use cases are more likely to emerge in the enterprise segment of the market.

In the case of prior generations, growth and use cases were lead by consumer applications. That is unlikely to be the case for 5G, if internet of things actually emerges as the killer set of apps.

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