In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile

By now it is obvious that a few countries and service providers are in a “race” to be first with 5G. It also is clear most countries and service providers do not share that sense of imperative. In the few cases where deployment will be pushed, there are reasons for the sense of urgency.

Some countries believe that “leadership” in other areas (app development, export markets, platforms, devices,  internet of things) hinges on 5G deployment. At a prosaic level, that is partly true: people, businesses and developers will not be able to create new experiences and potential revenue streams until they can assume 5G is ubiquitous.

It likely also is true that “leadership” in app, platform and devices will not hinge, ultimately, on 5G deployment.

Within some markets, there are marketing considerations, as none of the leading contestants wants to risk mocking that they are “behind the curve” in moving to the next generation platform. And it is obvious why suppliers of network infrastructure stoke the fires: it is good for sales.

But, in the service provider business, 5G mostly is not yet a race, outside a few countries where 5G mobile networks are seen as linked in some way to creation of other markets (exports, apps, platforms, solutions).

The notion of a race is an irresistible journalistic tool, a spur to infrastructure sales and might be linked, in some cases, to creation of other markets and early chances to develop such markets.

But it is less a race than often is portrayed, nor is service provider deployment necessarily and directly related to other forms of “leadership.” To the extent it is true that Europe “lead” in the 3G era, it arguably was related to early deployment of 3G networks that created new demand for devices.

It might be more accurate to say that the leading U.S. supplier, Motorola, missed the shift to 3G devices supporting data and email, while Nokia and Research in Motion caught the new trend.

Similar concerns were raised about 4G, when U.S. firms surged to “leadership.” There again, it arguably was not the prevalence of networks, but other factors, that were decisive. In devices, it was Apple reinventing the mobile phone that mattered. And 4G was the first mobile platform dominated by app and mobile internet use cases, not voice and texting.

And “leadership” (as exemplified by global brand adoption) was more an issue of application and platform providers having key roles, not something related to the availability of 4G as the access platform.

Something quite similar is likely to happen in the 5G era. The key advances will be about new use cases, revenue models and applications, especially those related to new computer-driven use cases, not human end user behavior.

If there is a true “race,” that is where the race lies. Service provider deployment of 5G networks is likely to prove relatively unimportant in the overall emergence of big new apps, use cases and revenue models for enterprise-centered IoT.

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