5G between big promises and unanswered questions

At the beginning of the industry show Mobile World Congress, Donald Trump is teased. “We will not talk about 6G here next year,” says Rajeev Suri, head of network equipment manufacturer Nokia, on the sidelines of the world’s largest mobile phone show in Barcelona.

The US president recently called for “as soon as possible” the introduction of 6G technology in the US, which was not even considered. What is talked about at every stand and every event this year is 5G, 5G and again 5G.

Long was waited for the superfast data radio, now he is within reach. And in the spring of Barcelona, ​​the industry is euphoric given the opportunities and opportunities that will bring the next mobile generation with it.

“It’s a revolution – and it’s happening now”

“It’s a revolution – and it’s happening now,” says analyst Mike Cansfield of IT research firm IDC. 5G promises a lot. First of all, there are Internet speeds with which a film can be downloaded within a few seconds. Or such short reaction times that industrial machines and even cars could be controlled remotely.


An end to the capacity bottlenecks for network operators. The networking of all possible technology outside of wireless connections. And finally, a new era for apps and service providers – because everyone is always connected to the cloud.

As world-changing as it sounds, 5G could be so difficult to convey to consumers, at least in the early days. For the first 5G applications they experience actually look pretty much like services from today’s LTE world – video calling, for example.

How do you market it? Obvious as a more reliable network? That would be shortsighted, argues IDC analyst Cansfield. Because in four years, only 4 percent should be online with 5G – and 75 percent in LTE networks. “Do you want to persuade three-quarters of your customers that they are on the internet with an unreliable connection? Rather not.”

The willingness to pay is very low

The users have high expectations with 5G: In a survey of digital association Bitkom immediately before the MWC 76 percent of respondents said that they promise 5G a better network without dead spots.

However, this is a topic that is not necessarily technically addressed with 5G, but with existing techniques. Two in three respondents expect higher speeds (65 percent) and fewer network outages (63 percent).

This is followed by another true 5G property, namely short maturities for the data (47 percent). What will cause the providers worry: The willingness to pay for the expected performance increase is low.

The largest group of respondents (39 percent) is not willing to pay more for 5G at all. After all, 25 percent of smartphone users would be willing to pay less than 10 euros per month for additional 5G, 31 percent for ten to less than 20 euros and only 2 percent for 20 euros and more.

The first 5G smartphones

So the industry needs lighthouse applications and flagship devices to capture the appeal of 5G. This year, these are also smartphones that you can unfold into a small tablet. One argument is that even large data content such as films on the move are quickly available – so there is a need for ever larger screens.

Preliminary manufacturers Samsung and Huawei also hope that their at least 2,000-euro Auffalt phones will be subsidized by the network operators, because they are hoping for more business with about streaming services.

So new smartphones from major manufacturers are not only unfoldable this season, but also 5G-capable therefore. “It was important for us to be able to deliver 5G with a high-end smartphone, and if the network operators are ready, they will use it too,” said Samsung manager Mario Winter recently on the decision, the new top model Galaxy 10S in a 5G version to bring to Germany, although for the network in this country only the frequencies must be auctioned. The Chinese challenger Xiaomi sets a low price mark with a 5G smartphone for 599 euros.

Also interesting: MWC in Barcelona: the ten most important smartphones

What about the network operators? For Nokia, which has long since left its golden age as the market leader in the mobile phone business, 5G offers a great opportunity. “I am confident that we have the right strategy at the right time,” says Nokia CEO Suri. 2019 will be an exciting year. And: “We expect 2020 to be a year of growth for the market and for Nokia.”

Competitor Huawei, who also relies on grid expansion, is currently under pressure due to security concerns in the West. The US warn against industrial espionage. Concerns are also raised as to whether Huawei’s technology could withstand cyber-conflict attacks from China and other regions, or whether a backdoor would be built for attackers.

In Barcelona, ​​Huawei caused a sensation with its flip-up smartphone Mate X, from the network equipment division was initially not much to hear. For the consumer business, CEO Richard Yu put his hand on fire: “We leave no back door open for any government,” said the top manager in Barcelona.

5G is accompanied by fundamental structural changes

The many new devices that manufacturers are vying for at the Mobile World Congress distract from the actual theme of the show, says Roman Friedrich, an analyst at the Boston Consulting Group. “Foldable smartphones do not address a mass market.”

The really new would be first applications on the 5G network. The focus should be on questions of how we can control machines and robots and make industrial processes more efficient.

The heated discussion about possible security risks by Huawei is, according to Friedrichs assessment “almost hysterical.” There may be “a true core” in the debate about security vulnerabilities, but there is a clear “lack of insight”.

5G was accompanied by fundamental structural changes. “We are only now fully experiencing the digitization of society,” says Friedrich. Problems of data security are “known for years”. However, the discussion is being conducted “decoupled from substance”.

Friedrich therefore called for an objective discussion. Necessary is also more international government transparency. A market leader such as Huawei could continue to do good to the market, a waiver would inhibit above all the technical development in Europe.

In any case, the dispute over conditions for the frequency auction in Germany and the question of whether the expansion after the billion-dollar auction the money is available in the end, practical operational problems in the background. “5G is a significant future technology,” said Friedrich. “We must not allow it to be delayed by uncertainties and ambiguities at the legal level.”

Also interesting: The 5G revolution is still coming

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