Industry Voices—Madden: Consumers will be disappointed with 5G speed

Joe Madden Industry Voices

Recently, I conducted a survey with my son’s 19-year-old friends. All of them said that they would like a “faster phone.” But I was the annoying dad that kept asking questions. “What exactly is slow on your phone?” “Which apps are slow, and which ones are fast enough?” “Show me which part makes you mad.”

Try this at home. The answers may surprise you. Most of the time, my son’s friends were complaining about the speed of a computing platform, not the speed of their data. They complained about the long time to launch a new application. They complained about the delay in Google Maps providing directions. They don’t like waiting for the phone to reconnect after being on “airplane mode.”

None of these gripes will be solved by 5G.

Here’s an example: In launching a new application, loading the process on Android (or iOS) routinely requires 2-3 seconds from a cold start. Then, the application can request an update from the cloud. For an application like Instagram, the total time can be more than 4 seconds, with only about 180 ms related to the actual data transfer time.

Mobile Experts 1
Mobile Experts

Launching a new application from a “cold start” can be much slower than a “warm start,” in which the app has preloaded some files in active memory. We tested Android and Apple phones to see the typical time required for launching various applications, and our conclusion is that 5G simply won’t help anybody that is impatiently waiting for their apps to launch. 

Mobile Experts 2
Mobile Experts

Another example comes from video streaming. If a 4K video stream requires 25 Mbps (or less with some forms of compression), then do we really need gigabit speed? Video quality and buffering issues are related to the consistency and capacity of the network, not the peak speed. People experience buffering problems at the NFL stadium because they are trying to share capacity with thousands of other people. So 5G will help in that case, not because it provides high peak speeds but because it provides capacity. To be clear, a bigger LTE network could accomplish the same goal.

So, let me get to the point. Mobile operators are starting to run TV commercials for 5G services, and we can expect to see hype around the idea of “faster” phones. I would like to say to the major operators: DON’T DO IT. If we present 5G as a “faster” technology, people will be disappointed and they won’t get in line to buy 5G phones.

In the end, we don’t see much benefit for the end user to buy a 5G phone. But there is a major benefit for the operator, as 5G will give them a cheaper way to deliver large buckets of data. I hope that the operators understand this key point: They will need to give the consumer an incentive to use a 5G device. Give away hotspots. Subsidize phones. But don’t expect people to buy the new phone simply because it has a “5G” logo.

Joe Madden is principal analyst at Mobile Experts, a network of market and technology experts that analyze wireless markets. The team provides detailed research on small cell, base station, carrier Wi-Fi, and IoT markets. Mr. Madden currently focuses on trends in 5G, IoT, and enterprise markets for wireless infrastructure. Over 26 years in mobile communications, he accurately predicted the rise of digital predistortion, remote radio heads, small cells, and a mobile IT market. He validates his ideas with mobile and cable operators, as well as semiconductor suppliers, to find the match between business models and technology. Mr. Madden holds a physics degree from UCLA. Despite learning about economics at Stanford, he still obeys the laws of physics.

"Industry Voices" are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceWireless.