Editor’s note: In the third of an in-depth report, Technology Business Research Analyst Dan Callahan spells out how high-speed 5G wireless will be deployed and used by businesses. The first two parts are linked with this report. 

PLANO, Texas – The lack of the business case does not mean 5G will never take hold; many operators are positive on 5G and expect 5G to be deployed in low-, mid- and high-band spectrum. 5G will take hold, since businesses will seek efficiency improvements and more bandwidth. 5G will not be a huge thing customers clamor to adopt; instead it will be a gradual technology upgrade as the price rightsizes due to standardization and competition.

Most infrastructure from major vendors being deployed by operators will be 5G-capable, meaning it will be easily upgradable to the new 5G standard. However, if there is no business case, customers, such as operators, are unlikely to pay for the upgrade.

TBR believes that some vendors at 5G Americas agreed, even if they did not say it outright. When questioned about the business case, Greendyk noted there will not be a “killer app” for 5G and that 5G adoption will come gradually as the technology evolves and use cases emerge.

Cisco engineer Michael Recchione offered similar sentiment during a roundtable, noting customers probably will not adopt 5G wholesale, throwing out all of their old equipment for a rip and replace. Instead, 5G will be implemented where it makes sense (e.g., 30% of their operation where the precision and density of 5G are necessary, while leaving LTE-M, LoRa or Wi-Fi to cover other parts of the business).

The gradual proving and adopting of 5G may be for the best.

Vendors indicate the build-out of 5G will take many years. Most customers will not have ubiquitous access to it for nearly a decade, and during that time, compelling use cases may emerge, helping dictate the deployment.

  • Small cells are the operator edge

Through small cells, NFV and SDN, operators are actively pushing content and compute to the edge as well, compounding the aforementioned dichotomy between edge and 5G. With partners, such as Kathrein, operators are adding small cells as densely as possible, such as in the smart city sphere on bus stops, kiosks, sewer caps and street lights. These small cell webs not only increase service to customers via increased density and lower latency but also give the increasingly content-oriented operators an advantage. For example, a small cell web could be used to improve customer and vendor experience during the release of a popular show through an operator-owned content provider. The show could be preloaded to the edge, before its release date, to reduce stress on release day and give viewers an improved experience, free of buffering, versus opposing connectivity providers.

Additionally, a vendor could charge a content provider such as Netflix a premium for preloading the show on the edge or charge customers a premium for having edge content access. There are multiple routes to monetization for content via the operator’s push to edge. It is not just limited to content, however.

Edge computing, and the nearly ubiquitous relationship operators have with consumers via phone plans, provides additional opportunities for operators to monetize through their edge. A fast food restaurant could pay to have its app available on edge small cells the day of a big cross-city promotion, ensuring customers can easily download the app and sign up for the promotion via the numerous small cells spread across the city.

A parking garage could pay a fee to have a parking app easily available from small cells around the location.

  • A network provider ecosystem is important for a unified 5G front

An undercurrent message at 5G Americas — not explicit but a tie across the event — was the need for all the vendors to team together on 5G. This is opposed to standard competition such as the CDMA and GSM split that divided and confused the market.

Not only will the teaming foster a standards-based approach that can accelerate 5G adoption — customers can be assured they will not be stuck with a dead standard if they adopt a fork of 5G technology – the consortium approach also ensures everyone is on the same team in pushing the technology.

All the vendors at 5G Americas have a large stake in 5G, thanks to the market opportunity for infrastructure refreshes for vendors and enhanced services for operators, so the all-for-one go-to-market strategy to build a unified front is most logical for all the member parties achieving their goals.

Next: The IoT platform could be the path to more rapid 5G adoption and monetization