Author(s): Kester Mann
Peter Bryer, Raghu Gopal
Things aren't always done in what would seem to be the proper order. This is certainly true for mobile operators, which have made a business out of putting the cart before the horse, switching networks on before anyone knew they needed them. This was true 20 years ago and it's true now.
In other words, there's no supply-and-demand problem for 5G services. Subscribers haven't been asking for a new generation of networks and it can be argued that there's no immediate need for them beyond fresh capacity in major markets. Nonetheless, 5G networks are coming. The reasons will join later.
The trend now among those with a vested interest in seeing successful 5G adoption is to keenly support and encourage development of those reasons. The motives for this are clear, but this is still a smart move for consumers, enterprises and economies that will get benefits from 5G. This model worked with LTE and it's likely to bear fruit again.
At MWC, OnePlus announced its 5G Apps of Tomorrow contest, asking developers — or potential developers — to submit proposals for apps that would exploit the 5G features. OnePlus will reward what it judges as the top-five app ideas with one year's worth of funding, guidance as well as a OnePlus smartphone. On a global scale, the manufacturer isn't a major hardware player, but it does have a strong fan base among tech enthusiasts, so it's nice to see this encouragement.
Using a similar approach, wireless operators are raising awareness of the business opportunities of 5G with their own encouragement. Verizon, for example, launched its Built on 5G Challenge at CES in January 2019. Mentioning the ability to create "transformative solutions", the carrier will award winners with up to $1 million in seed money as well as direct practical support.
This crowd-sourced method of development isn't just a PR move. The reality is that operators and hardware makers are still struggling with the uses for mobile 5G, though there's any doubt they are out there. This "build it and they will come" model has been effective in the past, and we believe that 5G offers even more potential for innovation than previous generations of mobile networks.
Many in the industry will readily confess that the reasons for most wireless customers to shift to 5G aren't here yet, and many point to the "killer" apps and services of 4G that few knew would drive the need for constant data connectivity. Netflix, Spotify, Facebook and other top content platforms would be very different these days if it weren't for mobile broadband. A decade ago, as operators began turning on their 4G networks, they envisioned subscribers using their own services for video chat and rich messaging. In the end, it was over-the-top services that fuelled the vast majority of traffic. LTE didn't turn out as it was envisioned, but it panned out.
There's no doubt that 5G is an enabler of something new, and device makers and operators are wise to admit they need help in finding it, particularly if operators are to realize their ambitions for new service revenue.
Our reports from MWC Barcelona 2019 delve deeper into these initiatives: