5G: The Connected Consumer

What will 5G mean to consumers? Will we enter a world where digital communications have no limits? How do the mobile networks have to evolve to deliver the next-generation services consumers are expecting?

The mobile consumer

Silicon spoke with Maciej Zasada, Technical Director at UNIT9: an innovation company that uses new technologies (AI, AR/VR etc.) to create experiences and business solution for companies like the BBC, Huawei and Nike.

What are the fundamental services that 5G will deliver to consumers?

5G delivers technological improvements in three main areas: speed, latency and capacity. Consumers using 5G networks, once they become widely available, should expect promised speeds of up to 20Gbps and latency of around 1ms.

This should drastically improve the overall online experience and unlock new applications that so far, have not been possible with 4G networks. 5G can also handle many more devices at once. This, in turn, may finally result in truly unlimited mobile internet as well as a proper IoT revolution.

With 4G delivering high-speed data connectivity, will consumers pay for the additional services 5G will offer?

Probably, at least at the beginning. However, that’s the case with each new technology that involves significant deployment investment. Also, with 5G offering a much higher network capacity than 4G, the key limitation of multiple devices being able to use the network at once will go away, which can, in turn, drive down the longer-term costs.

What are the critical challenges to network providers delivering 5G services to end consumers?

For 5G networks to deliver the promised multi-gigabit speeds and 1ms range latency, they need to operate at much higher frequencies. However, these drop off faster than lower frequency signals do. This means that network providers have to use many more, smaller, low-power base stations. As usual with these kinds of deployments, especially in suburban neighbourhoods, there is more resistance from the general public, which slows down the investment.

Not that 5G is always more challenging. Its modules are less expensive and less power consuming than 4G. Also, there is an interesting idea to deliver 5G home internet that could reduce the effort involved with current fibre optic deployments. Instead of digging up every street and running lines to each home, network providers could only install fibre optics to a base station every couple blocks and, connect homes wirelessly.

Is 5G to M-commerce what the internet was to E-commerce?

I wouldn’t go that far, but there are definitely interesting aspects. Before the internet, consumers could only buy things on-site. The internet enabled a whole new world for retail, letting people browse, buy and get goods delivered without leaving their homes. It was a huge revolution. M-commerce is already a smaller step forward, building on top of e-commerce by still using the internet for shopping, just enabling people to do it on-the-go.

This is already possible with 4G. However, what 5G can bring to M-commerce are AR-commerce, VR-commerce and IoT-commerce. AR and VR will benefit from low latency and ultimately general availability of the 5G network being able to deliver contextual content instantaneously. Also, with lower power consumption and cheaper components required, IoT devices will get more widespread, allowing for mobile points of sale or interactions with physical devices relating to the purchase.

Is there a ‘killer app’ for 5G to attract consumers to the network?

Certainly. A hopeful aspect of 5G that will undoubtedly attract consumers is the anticipated unlimited data plan. Thanks to 5G’s broadly higher capacity than 4G offered, network operators should be able to remove bandwidth throttling or extra charges after a certain data threshold is reached.

On top of that, being able to have pain-free, ultra-high-quality video calls at almost no latency is an idea that will appeal to the general public. Finally, 5G can attract many home internet users by providing higher speeds and competitive offering where fibre optics infrastructure doesn’t exist.

Yes. Streamed gaming is going to become huge. Both Google and Microsoft have announced upcoming platforms (Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud, respectively). They are promising to deliver something that would seem impossible not long ago – 4K game streaming at 60 FPS, at ultra-low latency. Also, the developments of 5G networks make me keen to believe it. This is an incredible new paradigm, which would result in no need to buy costly gaming consoles and instead, play using just a gamepad connected to the cloud, on any screen you have at your hand. Also, it literally means hand – as you could play the same AAA games on your mobile phone, without using all of its processing power.

Millennials also consider online sharing, streaming and communication the essential component of their lives. Be it games, video calls or funny AR lenses, these need to be live and shared to tick all the boxes for them. So 5G will be their gateway to making it more seamless and more accessible.

Being extremely excited about 5G as I am, I also need to remain pragmatic. Also, considering that it took 3-4 years from when the first 4G phones appeared in the US in 2010, till when we saw its first practical applications (video calling, Uber) in 2013, I believe an average consumer won’t benefit from 5G much this year.

Probably not even by 2020. Nevertheless, I cannot stop thinking about the vision of smart cities, where almost each device is online, where cars talk to each other to optimise traffic and to coordinate autonomous driving, where video calling is almost like a magic window, without any lag or quality hiccups, and where almost all computation is done in the cloud, optimising battery life of our smartphones and computers. Great times to be alive for sure!

NEXT: Paying for 5G