Among the bigger questions for 5G service providers is whether the business model is going to be better than 4G and 3G, or worse. Perhaps that should not be a key question, but global service provider business models arguably have been getting more difficult, compared to 2G.
In brief, here is the thesis laid out by James Sullivan, J.P. Morgan head of Asia equity research (all of Asia except Japan): emerging market mobile now is revenue challenged, unable to generate new revenues at rates that justify current investments.
Since revenue cannot be increased, “asset restructuring” is necessary, to adjust the cost base. In emerging markets, that means surviving competitors will not be able to own their own facilities.
Emerging market mobile has faced several challenges, all based around limited revenue growth and higher capital investment that have grown faster than incremental revenue.
As mobile data revenues have grown, they have cannibalized voice revenues. Rapidly-increasing capital investment and operating expense have lead to declining earnings.
Growth without profits is the issue in many parts of Asia. The bigger issue for U.S. mobile service providers is the ability to create more value for 5G services, as that, in principle, allows service providers to earn more revenue.
There is an interesting bit of data from a survey conducted by HarrisX, and commissioned by T-Mobile US, about technology innovation and consumer attitudes about 5G networks and services.
Apple, by far, is top of mind for respondents, followed by Google and LG. Mobile service providers are lower on the perception of leadership. That might speak to some confusion on the part of consumers, since Apple has not yet committed to introducing 5G capability on its devices and Google benefits only indirectly.
But those impressions might be key, eventually. If Apple can come up with something quite interesting in its 5G-capable devices--enough to entice service providers to subsidize its purchase, for example--5G adoption rates could get quite a boost.
A possible companion issue is whether service providers--working with Apple--can create something new in the value proposition. Perhaps a new retail sales model rebundling the device, apps and services could shake up retail market expectations.