Apple will be the catalyst for North America’s 5G adoption

A combination of services, technologies and a uniquely crafted approach to 5G means Apple will strike when the 5G market's right.

Apple, 5G, network, iOS, iPhone, iPad, Arcade, AR

Repeat after me: You’re only late to a party if you arrive after everyone else – but if you get there before the event is set-up, you’ll be in the way. 5G adoption during the next 12 to 24 months is going to be a little like that.

The 5G party hasn’t started

A motley collection of devices and a small number of 5G mast deployments in a limited number of locations does not a universally available service make. Adoption of new standards – no matter how exciting takes time.

It also takes services.

This is why the most recent GSMA report predicts it will be 2025 before 5G accounts for 46% of global connections, up from a paltry 1% this year and a tiny 4% in 2020.

The biggest growth rate for 5G connections will be between 2020-2021 (up to 14%) and 2021-2022, when the data shows 24% of connections will be over 5G.

Reading between the lines, it seems the mobile industry group is looking to Apple’s deployment of 5G modems inside its 2020 iPhones to help boost adoption.

People get ready

The report also suggests now may well be a good time to begin to think about what kind of B2C and B2B 5G services you can provide, as you’ll be able to begin testing these in North America by later next year.

The GSMA predicts we'll see 80% population coverage in North America by 2021, which suggests service availability may scale up swiftly towards the end of 2020. (User adoption will be slower, as it takes time for consumers to migrate to 5G hardware, and only a fifth of the world’s mobile markets will have launched 5G networks by 2020.)

This strongly suggests that consumers and service providers should already be deciding what to wear to the party, and should be thinking about what they want to do when it begins.

Now is a really good time to think about what services you can offer to 5G-connected consumers, particularly in the U.S. That's also true in other key markets where adoption is expected to reach decent numbers in the next couple of years; South Korea, Japan, Europe and China all look good.

Don’t ignore the opportunity in areas most primed for mobile transformation; Sub-Saharan Africa (a hotbed of fintech innovation) is expected to see 3% 5G market share by 2025. Think about what services the most tech savvy and presumably wealthiest consumers in that part of Africa require.

The bottom line?

5G service availability will become viable after 2021. Consumers will begin to use 5G-based services more widely by 2022.

The party is about to begin, but hasn’t really started yet.

Every party needs a little entertainment

What can you bring to a party? The list likely includes food, refreshment and entertainment.

I think the 5G party will be similar: Collaboration, entertainment and access to new computing experiences such as on-device intelligence, private clouds and on-demand AR will drive adoption. (Will your next computer be a virtual one in AR space?)

Cable connections will realistically be replaced by mobile, which suggests a wave of industry consolidation. We’ll see 5G networks driving traffic management systems, and likely see the standard work in conjunction with exciting old-but-now-new technologies such as UWB to provide sensor-based intelligence to semi-autonomous vehicles.

“5G technologies are expected to contribute $2.2 trillion to the global economy over the next 15 years,” says the GSMA.

Manufacturing, utilities and professional/financial services will see the biggest benefits, presumably as the standard is used as part of the networking glue to support industrial/enterprise IoT deployments.

New services, new computing models, and smart cities, vehicles and manufacturing will all seek to exploit the bandwidth locked inside of 5G.

Up next?

Apple knows the party is coming – why else is it paying a billion dollars to purchase Intel’s modem technologies?

The company is hustling to deliver its own 5G modems as it seeks to cut the cord with Qualcomm after a very public disagreement with that firm, but isn’t realistically expected to deliver devices containing Apple-made modems until 2022.

That’s not such a bad thing.

Not only will Apple be able to use Qualcomm 5G modems in iPhones just as service provision becomes a thing and DJs begin playing the first songs of the 5G party when it begins in late 2020; but it will be able to deliver uniquely tuned solutions by the time the party really kicks off in 2022.

We’ll see the first glimpses of those plans in 2020 when Apple introduces new products and continues to evangelize services – including Apple Arcade – it must surely be designing with 5G and future product evolution in mind.

This combination of hardware/software and services will give Apple customers good reasons to invest in those 5G devices in future, inevitably sparking growth in adoption of the standard between 2020-2022.

(I can't help but also speculate on the far less likely, though still possible, opportunity that Apple may also see the introduction of its own 5G chips as a chance to sell highly secure IoT/machine intelligence processors to others [MachineKit?] as it deepens its place in the infrastructure.)

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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