Top Topics from MWC 2019: 5G

An insight by Junior Research Analyst, Anna Fitzpatrick

MWC, the worlds largest mobile conference, was dominated by talk of 5G and its transformative potential. 5G has been long been talked about but with several 5G capable handsets now revealed, the build-up has reached a climax. Cisco’s CEO, Chuck Robbins looked to legitimise the hype stating that he feels it will ‘be reflected in the reality’. The overwhelming noise of excitement was tempered by sceptical voices. Groupon’s CEO, Rich Williams, said ‘I see 5G everywhere, but no one can explain what it means’- reminding us that it is not enough to claim that 5G is going to change everything, but that it is crucial to think about how, logistically, this would happen. ‘I’m over 5G’, Williams asserted. Can you really be ‘over’ something that hasn’t happened yet? 5G may not have been physically actualised, but it’s constant presence at MWC was overwhelming. Without practical examples of what exactly 5G does, it is not surprising that some people’s eyes may have glazed over.

It was pointed out by Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, that ‘most operators are feeling nervous about the capital outlay and business model’ of deploying 5G. With European consumers wanting more for less, as Fries highlights, 5G may not arrive as soon as much of 2019’s MWC talk would suggest- especially when it omits discussion of how much access might cost individuals. This is before even considering infrastructural barriers. Hatem Dowidar, the CEO of Etisalat International noted that ‘we have only just got 4G in emerging markets’, reminding us to ensure that we are achieving quality return on that investment before ‘rushing’ into 5G.

The reality is that 5G, as the top talking point of one of the largest mobile conferences, remains an exciting prospect. As Andrew Penn, Telstra’s CEO highlighted, 5G is set to arrive at the same time ‘as a number of other technologies are starting to reach a degree of maturity’. It was the arrival of superfast chips in 2006 that further thawed the AI winter, enabling computers to translate languages and process speech. Given this, the intersection of AI with the increased processing power of 5G could accelerate the capacity of machines to learn. Although this is an exciting possibility, it is an uncertain one. While we cannot know for sure what 5G will produce, it looks to be an exciting year for mobile, and a transformative one.

To learn more about what happened at MWC read our recap of the AI in Advertising panel with our Global CEO, James Hilton, here.