Industry Voices—Blaber: Qualcomm and partners fire the starting gun for mobile 5G

Hawaii ocean
The opening day of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii is a testament that mobile 5G is here. (Pixabay)
Industry Voices Geoff

The mobile industry is no stranger to claims of 5G “firsts.” An endless stream of press releases over the last few months claiming increasingly spurious “firsts” has left the market somewhat numb despite 5G’s significance and impact.

The opening day of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit comes as a relief as years of development finally manifests itself in tangible progress. The significance of what Qualcomm and partners including AT&T, EE, Ericsson, Inseego, Motorola, Netgear, Samsung, Telstra and Verizon showed in Maui, Hawaii, is a major landmark. Mobile 5G is here.

The deployment of two 5G mmWave networks from AT&T and Verizon for the event and the live demonstration of a mmWave connection to a Motorola Z3 and Samsung prototype smartphone powered by a Qualcomm X50 modem is the result of years of hard work and industry collaboration. mmWave has gone from a technology that many commentators said was impossible to integrate into a mobile device to a commercial reality offering gigabit speeds, low latency, much needed fresh capacity and a startling jump in performance.

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Convincing consumers on the benefits of 5G won’t be an easy task and it’s an unavoidable reality that the initial business case is based more on the need for fresh capacity for existing use cases like mobile video, than clear line of sight to what comes next. However, seeing the technology is believing. We’ve heard endless keynotes and read countless press releases about the 5G promise, but having experienced the technology I can say that it’s real and will pave the way for new enterprise and consumer use cases as coverage gets built out.

Every major generational network transition has been accompanied by the “killer app” discussion. This is inherently difficult as no amount of crystal ball gazing can accurately predict future uses. What’s important with 5G is that it provides new capacity, which is badly needed today whilst bringing game changing characteristics including low latency, high throughput and lower cost per bit. Most importantly, 5G does this with the flexibility to serve a huge diversity of use cases with vastly differing demands on the network.

The near term, medium term and long-term applications are all very different and require various updates to core and radio access network (RAN). We are at the start of a journey and one that requires the same degree of faith in the mantra of “build it and they will come” that characterized 3G and 4G. The wealth of disruptive new businesses that emerged in the 4G era is proof that, so long as the network has flexibility, new cases will be generated.

This doesn’t mean that 2019 will see the seamless introduction of 5G. Marketing the benefits of 5G will be difficult whilst coverage is built out and promotion based on speed is fraught with challenges given coverage and contrasting approaches to deployment.

However, Qualcomm’s event underlines widespread commitment with over 20 manufacturers and 20 carriers working to deliver networks and products in 2019. Samsung has announced devices for AT&T and Verizon in 1H19, Motorola demonstrated its Z3 “5G mod”and Netgear and Inseego both showed their mobile 5G routers for AT&T and Verizon.

We fully expect MWC 2019 to see a broad swathe of device announcements. Given the speed of network deployment we anticipate in China and the U.S. and accelerating commitments in Europe, the market ramp should rival if not exceed that of 4G.

What the industry has achieved to date is a remarkable feat of collaboration and Qualcomm’s Hawaii event is testament to that. Nonetheless, 5G will be a complex journey spanning deployment, ongoing RAN and core network upgrades, use case development and user adoption. Qualcomm provided a tantalizing glimpse of what’s to come, but this is just the start.  

Geoff Blaber is vice president of research for the Americas at CCS Insight. Based in California, Blaber heads CCS Insight’s Americas business and supports the range of clients located in this territory. Blaber's research focus spans a broad spectrum of mobility and technology, including the lead role in semiconductors. He is a well-known member of the analyst community and provides regular commentary to leading news organizations such as Reuters, the Financial Times and The Economist. You can follow him on Twitter @geoffblaber.

"Industry Voices" are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceWireless.