In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile

It is surprising how many times one hears or reads that 5G has failed. It is an odd argument since 5G still is not deployed in most places, though it will be. Such assessments are partly ahistorical. 

No new mobile or fixed network, in any country of sufficient size, can be built fast (within a single year). No new mobile platform ever is able to generate new use cases and applications fast (within the first couple of years), even once coverage is ubiquitous. 

By the same logic, Tesla is a failure because so few people actually have owned them since the company’s founding in 2003. After two decades, all electric vehicle sales (market share) stands at about five percent to 10 percent of autos sold. 

Even once a new mobile network is built and covers most places, peak adoption takes at least eight to 10 years. And fewer than half of countries globally have started to deploy 5G. 

What observers seem to mean when saying “5G has failed,” even ignoring early and incomplete deployment, is that new revenue and use cases have not yet developed, or that deployment costs have not yet yielded an increase in revenue or profits. 

That ignores the fact that subscription rates and mobile broadband adoption are the key drivers of mobile operator revenue and profit growth globally. Even if 5G failed to generate lots of new use cases (highly unlikely, historically), it would still be essential to driving the mobile broadband revenue stream, which requires constant upgrading of speeds, as fixed network products have required constant upgrading of access speeds, for about the same–or lower–prices. 

Beyond all that are issues of human ability to adapt to change. What technology enables does not automatically translate into enterprise or consumer behavior change. Crossing the chasm or technology life cycles and S curves are related examples. 

Bill Gates is said to have popularized the idea that “we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.

As I recall, that is the expression of a theorem whose name I have forgotten, but is related to Martec’s Law, which is that technology advances at far higher rates that humans and their organizations can adapt. The Gates quote might also be a rendering of Kurzweil’s Law, which states that technology change grows exponentially.

All of that applies to 5G. The big changes will come in 10 years, not in the first two years.

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