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24 Apr 2023

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The Future of 5G Still Looks to be in the Future

Wireless 5G technology has been around now for about four years. Its promised higher download speeds of as much as 10 gigabits per second are especially useful to high-intensity industrial, robotic environments, massive IoT traffic-control deployments that require bandwidth with absolutely minimal latency, and the metaverse-blockchain world expected to be here any minute.

Yet 5G has been relentlessly touted by telcos for personal use, even as 10- to 15-megabit connections can stream most video perfectly well. The telcos have invested $100 billion to upgrade their networks to 5G, according to a Bloomberg report that calls this effort a “whiff,” given that consumers have not made 5G-capable phones universal.

One market research company projected that 5G phones will be in 69% of phones sold this year in the US, compared to 1% in 2019 and a steadily increasing market share since. Extrapolating these numbers and assuming consumers swap out for a new phone every two to three years shows that 5G is currently available in 40% of phones in the US at the moment.

AT&T CEO John Stankey tacitly acknowledged 5G's sluggish adoption in the company's recent earnings call, saying 5G was a key to “the future,” and noting “things like augmented reality (and) the next generation of applications” as places where it will shine. Bloomberg has also cited an AT&T spokesperson the 5G game is “in inning 3 out of 9” at this juncture.

With baseball games becoming notably faster this year through the use of a pitch clock and other changes, maybe 5G market adoption will speed up as well. The history of the Worldwide Web shows a constant increase of access speed over three decades, from the days of 2,400bps dial-up to today's tens and hundreds of megabits per second delivered on desktops and devices. Then at some point, we will be able to ponder 6G, if it's ever decided which frequencies it will use.

Image from AT&T.

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