In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile

To the extent some have concerns about the 5G business model, there are reasons for that concern.

Only 56 percent of respondents to a survey commissioned by TIA believe 5G will significantly transform mobile broadband. The rest of the survey respondents obviously do not believe 5G will “significantly transform” mobile broadband access. Granted, much hinges on the understanding of “transform.”

It is conceivable that respondents meant by those responses only that 5G would offer speed and latency advantages over 4G, but would not “significantly transform” the revenue model. That is a reasonable position, if one believes faster speeds and lower latency are “better,” but not a revolution.

If so, 5G will be an expensive way to possibly transform 4G mobile access, as 5G networks might–or will–be more costly than 4G networks, raising the issue of declining return on capital, something few mobile operators can afford.

Worse, should respondent views prove correct, is that 70 percent seem to believe M2M will not be a key benefit of 5G, while only half think low-latency new services will be transformed.

Ignoring for the moment the impact of that specific terminology (“transformed” rather than “enabled,” for example), most executives are signaling trouble for the business model.

If 5G promises big new revenues in IoT and M2M, and operator executives seem not to believe that will happen, there could be serious business model issues, of the “still a dumb pipe” variety. There is only so much incremental financial value to be wrung from 5G access speeds. Most of the revenue upside is going to come (observers currently believe) from IoT apps and services.

If 5G mostly is a “faster dumb pipe,” then the capital investment is likely to produce paltry returns.

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