I’m just going to say it: the 5G “killer app” is but a winged unicorn disappearing into a vibrant multi-coloured sunset. It simply doesn’t exist.
I know the industry has been trying to convince you otherwise for the last few years, but the killer app is not VR, nor is it remote surgery, a live event companion app or autonomous taxis. For sure, these might become common 5G use cases (I suspect some will actually lag behind until 6G), but none are the killer app we have been promised.
We can’t blame ourselves (I’m complicit!) – no small amount of money has been sunk into bringing 5G to the masses: billions and billions have been spent on R&D into processors and access network technologies, radio spectrum and device development to name a few. Given the huge investment, we’re quite right to expect a decent return. Pinning our hopes on a single panacea while inspiring tech firms everywhere to dream big was the strategy which worked for 4G after all: mobile video changed the way we used devices forever. FaceTime, Netflix, Instagram and TikTok would never have seen such incredible growth without 4G.
And now we have 5G. It can easily handle 8K video streaming straight to your device! But will watching Schitt’s Creek in 8K on a 5 inch screen be enough for anyone to actually shell out more cash? Probably not…How about donning a VR headset to do…whatever it is people do with them on, in extra hi-res, WIRELESSLY? Also feels like a stretch. I don’t think consumer-based flavours of killer apps are going to deliver the ROI that is needed – we need to be thinking about the workforce if 5G is going to deliver.
So is 5G just a massive fail destined never to deliver a return on investment to those who created it? Of course not and here’s why: we only need look at the last 12 months to see where the real value in 5G could be in 2021 and beyond. For me, it is all about human re-connection. I’m not talking about a more immersive video conferencing technology specifically (though these may help), I’m talking about a level of connectivity which will allow us to become the hybrid-flexible-sustainable-mobile-agile workforce that Blackberry first promised when it stuck a keyboard on a mobile email device back in the early 00’s. A level of connectivity which allows the vast army of WFHers to emerge from the safety of their well-curated, coloured-coded-shelved offices and begin to tentatively re-integrate into real world society once more.
Even as recently as 2018 we didn’t really have the right corporate policies or enough bandwidth to realise this nirvana of workstyle. Today, however, we have both a progressive mindset to where work happens AND, with 5G, more download speed and reliability than you can poke a stick at.
Those of us stuck at home sipping fibre-backed WiFi for the last year, have become pretty used to unfettered access speeds for all our cloud-based applications and systems – if it weren’t for our innate need to see people (please, anyone, please!!) we’d probably be happy never to move again. But we do need to see people, and even if we don’t intend on going back to the office full time, the last 12 months have crystalised in many people’s minds that they can have the hybrid-flexible-sustainable-mobile-agile workstyle, if only connectivity was up to the task.
Enter 5G, right? Well yes…almost. We have all the constituent parts but with so many businesses looking to drive a return on their own investments, collaboration up and down the value chain has been pretty woeful. The impact of this is that everyone is shouting GET YOUR 5G EXPERIENCES HERE without demonstrating an appreciation of how those experience’s fit together for the end-user. Why are the mobile processor firms not doing more work with the SaaS providers? Why are the device manufacturers not working hand-in-hand with the service design businesses who are consulting the city planners? Why is no one connecting 5G to employee wellness at a time when we’re all gradually losing it with cabin-fever?
A lack of collaboration could ultimately kill the 5G experience – so let’s do something about it. Let’s commit to the success of 5G by taking our heads out of our own businesses and appreciating how we could work to achieve not just a return on our investment, but a return to society.
The 5G killer app is currently a myth but there’s a chance to make it material and all we really needed to do was take a look at what truly matters to us as humans: connection.