Why it really doesn't matter if Apple is ‘late’ to 5G

The early players in 5G will deliver half-baked services that don’t work to a thunder of marketing.

Apple, iOS, iPhone, 5G
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Apple knows how networks work. Think how the company managed to become dominant in mobile technology off the back of iTunes and the iPod. It knows tastes change, and it knows how to surf that change. At its best, this is what the company does.

Apple will go 5G when its ready

It looks like the latest Apple-critic groupthink we are going to endure across the next 12 to 18 months will be: “Apple is late to 5G.”

The argument will be based on a smattering of hardware manufacturers sticking 5G inside of their devices a little earlier than most in the industry, even though the networks aren’t ready, 5G services aren’t really available, and (last time I looked) the standard isn’t even complete yet.

I’d argue that manufacturers trying to get into this early are the equivalent of party guests turning up before the invitations go out. They’ll look pretty foolish if they all turn up in togas for what turns out to be a Star Wars theme party.

You know the next chapter

If you’ve been watching the never-ending AAPL movie, you know what happens next:

The early players in 5G will deliver half-baked services that don’t work to a thunder of marketing.

These will be available in certain high-end devices, but only in a very small number of geographies where 5G (is it even 5G?) networks will be available.

We’re looking at 2020 at the earliest in most countries. Ericsson predicts 5G will reach 1.5 billion users by 2024.

Many in the media will become breathlessly excited and histrionic, waving expressions like “Mobile Broadband” or “Connect Anywhere,” and millions of consumers will buy into their marketing-driven mantra and slap their cash down for a new device only to find either they don’t have access to any 5G services in their location or those that do exist are expensive — and everyone will feel pretty cheated.

(It’s important to remember that those arguments concerning “fake news” didn’t come from nowhere— in a quest for traffic, many media outlets that should know better have been guilty of peddling various concoctions of twisted fantasy, which has helped that perception thrive. Chinese servers, anyone?)

Those seeking a first-to-market advantage in 5G will deliver solutions that don’t match the hype. We all know those first-generation Samsung smartwatches failed to set the world on fire. Too little, too early, and too lame.

That’s when Apple comes in

Just when people have given up on the whole 5G dream, Apple will enter the fray with a new device (expected to appear in 2020) equipped with support for the ratified 5G standard.

When it does, the company will look to its existing services, apps, technologies to provide reasons for people to want to use its 5G phones. iCloud, Apple Music, television and movie services, FaceTime AR, and other augmented reality experiences will all be part of this argument. Video will be critical, and video-based services of various kinds will be liberated by 5G speeds. Many people will travel the world using Maps.

That’s not to mention the possibility of creating APIs designed to support CoreML machine intelligence at the edge. Machine-to-machine (M2M) technology means cars that talk to one another. Just like people, machines that speak together are far less likely to collide.

Despite the promise, Apple will enter the industry only when it has figured out three things:

  1. When there are enough 5G networks in place that consumers are justified paying for devices that support it — those 5G radios will not be free.
  2. When Apple and its partners have developed a 5G modem that’s good enough.
  3. When the standard is fully baked — and if it isn’t, iPhone users will get a subsequent software upgrade that brings the tech in line with the final 5G specification.

What's next?

The move to 5G will be fundamental, but will take place over the next five to 10 years.

Not only will it enable next-generation services across the entire hardware/software infrastructure from the network center to the edge (think self-healing machines, network-based AI traffic security centers, M2M on a global scale and more), it will also enable innovation in OTT service provision and the introduction of new connected hardware across almost every industry known to man.

Think hundreds of billions of connected devices generating data analytics on a global scale (which is why privacy is essential and law makers who are too compromised or dumb to see that are making the world less secure).

Within this context, being first to market will likely be a disadvantage. In an industry and on a planet about to experience profound change, it seems much, much more essential and (dare I say it?) ethically responsible to get the recipe right.

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