WEEK IN IoT – OK, I admit it. I have a real problem with the notion that there’s a killer app for each new bearer technology that comes along, says Jeremy Cowan. Perhaps this is because ‘What’s the Next Big Thing?’ is the first question I’m asked every year when I meet people at Mobile World Congress.
The Next Big Thing
“So, Jeremy,” they say, “what’s the Next Big Thing here in Barcelona?” Now, the chances are I just stepped off the same plane they did, and because it’s still the first morning I will have seen equally little of the show. The only evidence I can rely on is the blizzard of press releases that have been filling my Inbox for the past three months. That, I can assure you, is NOT an exact science.
In earlier years I would blithely throw out suggestions for the Next Big Thing like gaming, mobile money, and video messaging. And like a tree ring, you can date my attendance from these replies. Then IoT became my stock answer for several years, until the audience wanted something new from their editorial performing seal.
Video streaming tops the wish list
So, I was concerned to see that IHS Markit, a research company for which I have enormous respect, was declaring that the Killer App for 5G in the US will be video streaming. Of course, unlike my answers above, their prediction is based on surveys and further evidence. My concern is not that they are making forecasts – it’s what they do – but rather that so many in the industry pin their hopes and business plans on a single technology. It all seems too redolent of the 3G licence debacle that led in many countries – my own, the UK, notable amongst them – to preposterous bids for 3G spectrum that enriched Her Majesty’s Treasury, and near-bankrupted some mobile network operators who spent years trying to recoup their multi-billion pound investments.
IHS Markit’s Digital Orbit research says, “The 5G era is set to drive the next wave of growth in video streaming, with 78% of U.S. consumers indicating they will expand this activity as they adopt the next-generation wireless standard in smartphones and home-networking solutions.”
Asked to name which of their activities are likely to increase due to the arrival of 5G, consumers ranked video streaming first, ahead of video calling, social media, mobile gaming, virtual reality and augmented reality. As a result, says IHS Markit, the deployment of 5G will help cause video usage to grow to 70% of mobile network traffic in 2022, up from 47% in 2015.
IHS Markit adds that 5G’s largest impact will be felt in emerging areas of the market such as 4K ultra-high definition (UHD) video. The 5G standard enables 4K on mobile platforms because of its increased capacity and speed. The 5G standard will also be critical to promoting the consumption of general live video. They report adds that it is particularly true for sports and live events, where lower latency and higher speed and bandwidth are critical.
Home 5G to promote video streaming
US consumers are also said to be intensely interested in 5G video streaming via home internet access. “While often regarded purely as a mobile technology,” says the report, “the 5G standard also supports fixed wireless access (FWA) in the home.” However, unlike fixed DSL, cable or fibre solutions, 5G FWA uses wireless mobile network technology to extend internet access into homes. The analysts report that most consumers are attracted to 5G FWA by its faster speeds.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I can fault these answers. Quite the contrary. Like everyone else, I have no idea which of the upcoming services will bring the biggest financial benefit. I prefer to treat these conclusions with caution. By all means, let’s ask the questions. Just remember that consumers know what they want now, but seldom know what they want next. After all, which consumers were demanding text messaging when the first SMS was sent in 1992? Yet SMS delivered the lion’s share of mobile network operator profits in the Nineties and Noughties.
Or the iPad? It took me an embarrassingly long time to see it wasn’t about enlarging the mobile phone, Apple was miniaturising the desktop. Steve Jobs grasped that opportunity quickly with the iPad in 2010. The Palm Pilot and Apple Newton were just baby steps along the way.
I guess my point is, if you want to know what will be the Next Big Thing, don’t ask the users. Or the telcos, they’re still smarting from the apps’ Walled Gardens. And certainly don’t ask me!
Finally, this reminds me of a senior European telco exec I interviewed last year. When I asked him what services his organisation would deploy first in 5G, he answered honestly, “I don’t know, Jeremy. But whatever it is, we’ll do it very loud and very small.”
IHS Markit’s Digital Orbit report summarises the results of a survey on how consumers perceive 5G and how they intend to use the new technology. The survey was conducted May 22-27 among 2,031 respondents, 95% of whom were US-based. The median age of the survey respondents was 43, and 63% lived in urban areas.
The author is Jeremy Cowan, editorial director of VanillaPlus and IoT Now.