Among the lessons we can learn about where the wireless industry will head comes from an understanding of past successes. At its roots, the wireless industry has grown due to technological progress in the design and manufacture of semiconductor-based equipment and mobile devices. That opened up waiting markets for people to make phone calls into the existing landline phone network.
Almost every ‘blockbuster’ application since has been, is an extension of what occurred first with wired Internet communications. These required up-front agreements on standards, access to spectrum, and capital, which are highly organized and lengthy endeavors. In many cases, particularly in the early stages of each new generation of wireless, the use cases beyond voice and simple text messaging have been a process of trial and error. Of concern to mobile operators is whether they would become ‘fat pipe’ access providers detached from the revenue-generating services, content, and applications that ran Over the Top (OTT).
In recent years, more applications have developed in which the use of mobile devices have become essential to the functionality and user experience. Mobile money, social chat, and some gaming apps are centered on use while people are in social settings, rather than in front of a computer screen.
The 5G environment will also occur, mostly, as an extension of what has come before. During the early stages, harnessing 5G’s lower latency and higher speeds will be isolated. The new 5G environment must first proliferate to reach a substantial percentage of consumers before it becomes the platform for new applications to gain market traction.
As with 4G, there is no certain date for this to occur. However, from that experience, it may be around 2021-22 before it appears.
Our forecasts for 5G development in the U.S. takes two different tracks. The first being the scenario in which T-Mobile and Sprint do not merge, the deployment of mobile 5G will take longer to reach a large stratum of the population. The second is if the merger is allowed by the government. In that case, by 2023, we project that over 50 percent of U.S. subscribers will have 5G enabled smartphones that can deliver a marked improvement in applications performance, i.e. ‘5G apps.’
Mobile Operators Most Difficult Task? Mastering the Innovations that Wireless Unleashes
The task of building networks and devices that adhere to the standards and the building of managed networks is a highly disciplined and lengthy process. The task of developing new applications is “capturing light in a bottle.” It is part a methodical process and part the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time with an inspired and highly motivated team of developers and entrepreneurs.
It has been estimated that over 70 percent of operator-sponsored applications either failed and were abandoned, merged with others, or gained limited adoption. Many remaining operator-developed applications are retained to become more a nuisance than a benefit to ongoing operations.
Each of the major U.S. operators, as well as in many other countries, have applications with low user ratings. Some have not been upgraded for several months and have questionable compatibility with the current OS.
This issue is certainly not unique to mobile operators. In fact, it is indicative of the application development environment. Large numbers of applications appear, some gain leadership, which tend to soak up market share quickly.
However, some categories, such as security applications, continue to draw new participants, even while the feature sets and user interface are almost identical.
What defines applications that have staying power and where mobile operators have an advantage? And why do some applications, where operators have an edge, such as customer service applications, garner low user ratings and are not extended to leverage the connection to the user and account tie-in to gain traction in other categories?
It is a complicated environment. Sometimes the answers are not obvious. With ever-evolving wireless platforms, keeping on the cutting edge is certainly challenging.
Robert Syputa, BSEE, MBA, is a Senior ICT industry analyst with 28 years’ experience in the field of electronics, computing, and telecommunications. His understanding of these fields stems from the study of patents and baseline research. Robert’s experience includes applications engineering and marketing for leading companies in the field including Philips, Fairchild, Honeywell, GE-Druck, and Boeing. He has participated in IEEE and 3G-5G standards efforts and consulted with leading component, equipment and service providers. Robert authors reports on 4G-5G wireless and its impacts on IT/networking, mobile eCommerce, patents, and industry convergence.
This article originally ran in the Winter 2018 issue of Applied Wireless Technology.