It often appears that all discussions about the value or role of 5G really about 5G. That seems most obvious when 5G is positioned as a race, especially to deploy the access networks.
To be sure, one can look at suppliers of 5G handsets, radio infrastructure, intellectual property, access and transport infrastructure, chipsets or mobile service providers and try to assess “leadership.”
But recall just a couple of examples. The United States has not had what some would call a “national champion” in communications infrastructure since Lucent Technologies was sold to Alcatel. Canada has not had a national champion since Nortel went bankrupt. Would anybody argue that the lack of such a domestic supplier materially affected U.S. 4G?
Did Nokia leadership in 3G devices, or Ericsson’s leadership in radio infrastructure, propel alternate versions of Google, Facebook, Amazon or Netflix? Conversely, did relative U.S. slowness in adoption of 2G or 3G seem to affect the rise of global innovators and leaders in applications?
Some imply that the rise of Huawei as a global supplier of communications networking infrastructure (access infrastructure, perhaps the most-often mentioned example) somehow means leadership in other areas (applications, platforms).
And that, it seems to me, is where the confusion begins.
Many seem to conflate 5G, as a mobile access platform, with the business value, new applications or advances in computing that 5G will be part of. And those are the things that matter, not 5G per se; not “leadership” or market share in the supply of radio infrastructure, as often seems to be the way the challenge is stated.
That is a little like conflating the business of computing hardware with the separate business of software; network access (connectivity) as compared to applications.
What many seem to be saying is that “leadership” in 5G mobile access availability is the same thing as leadership in markets, applications, platforms, applied computing, internet of things or artificial intelligence.
That seems to be one further iteration of the notion that “broadband access causes economic growth,” in the sense of causation, the one leading to the other. Of course, many would say they realize what is necessary is not sufficient. And yet there is a persistent suggestion that “something has to be done” to spur faster 5G mobile network deployment, as the other innovations hinge on 5G.
That is probably a mistaken notion.
Consider just one example, where 5G is said to be “integral to realizing the potential of the Internet of Things and promising applications of artificial intelligence.” No doubt, 5G will often play a contributing role in new IoT and edge computing use cases.
But what always matters with any new information technology is not the deployment itself (people and businesses using computers) but the ability to wring business, social and economic value out of computing.
So mainframes, minicomputers, personal computers, cloud computing, edge computing and mobile computing are important as they allow new business models, use cases, processes, revenue streams, industries and firms to arise.
It simply does not seem to me that 5G mobile platforms, in themselves, are any sort of race. The ability to wring business value out of artificial intelligence is another matter. If the notion of a race is valid, that is the sort of place where the idea has merit.