5G is already dead. Strangled in its cradle by overhype, a weak business case and the polycrises that show no sign letting up.
And yet the juggernaut of the Gs didn’t pause, let alone stop. The relentless marketing momentum pushes on, blind to the indifference of customers and, increasingly, of operators. If you’ve deployed it you have to justify it, after all.
Just before everything finally came crashing down, the GSMA published its yearly report on the state of the mobile market. It was grim reading. By 2026, it said, 30% of connections will be over 5G. Worse, by 2030 40% of connections will still be over 4G and 5G will have crawled to something approaching 50%.
Why is this so bad? Because the industry, bored that 5G continues to disappoint has already moved on to 6G and so the juggernaut continues without even a comfort break. The final nail in the 5G coffin was driven home by Orange’s Christel Heydemann. “Massive” network investments of EUR600 billion, she said, had proven “hard to monetise”. Consumers, she added wryly, “expect to pay always less and get more.” This has led 46% of telecoms CEOs to tell PWC they don’t think their company will survive another 10 years.
Almost imperceptibly, marketers came home from MWC23 and quietly crossed out the 5 from their articles, PowerPoint decks and reports and replaced it with 6.
But it’s not quite as simple as that. Heydemann is not alone in her cynisism. At a recent 6G Symposium, attendees debated long and hard what 6G actually was, what customers wanted from it, and whether there was anything approaching a business case.
There was no consensus. No violent agreement. Just a sense that we really had to start thinking hard about these issues. This didn’t bother me, because admitting when you don’t know something is usually half the battle.
Of course some defaulted to the usual science fiction approach to telecoms innovation. Holograms, humanoid robots, super-smart AI that wants to destroy the world – yes they’ll all be using 6G and we’ll be paying for them.
It’s okay to not know
While network architects worried about what customers wanted from them, I pointed out that it wasn’t their problem.
What we needed from them was a solid, safe, ubiquitous and adaptable network. Other people were far better placed to decide how to use this – including customers.
That said, we’re at high risk that 6G will still disappoint and the operators will not commit billions when confronted with uncertain or non-existent demand. They’re simply not going to wait 10 years for innovation and neither are they prepared to keep having to throw everything away and start again. In reality, of course, they don’t. Networks are a patchwork of technologies and that’s one of the key difficulties when upgrading.
To help get this party started though, we thought we’d introduce you to a new concept that you’re going to be hearing a lot about – 6G SAG (short for ‘Service Adoption Gap’). This is what we at the business layer dread – a shiny new network and nobody paying to use it. But if we analyse exactly what causes this, as well as what we can do to close it, then the gap could be substantially closed.
The key to doing this is to align network build with customer demand more precisely. And this is where AI is set to revolutionise the approach.
Meanwhile, find out more about the 6G SAG here.