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Rushed out to buy a new 5G phone? With consumer use still far from reality, you could have waited

While telcos and service providers have been encouraging consumers to buy 5G phones, the rollout of the technology will prioritise enterprises over consumers.

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New Delhi: In the run-up to the launch of the first phase of 5G services in the country by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 1 October, a significant increase in demand for 5G phones by customers looking to make use of the new technology was registered. However, it seems their enthusiasm might have been premature.

Though the 5G hype in the telecom consumer market has received impetus from mobile phone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung and service providers like Reliance Jio and Airtel, analysts have questioned the need for launching phones or promising services at a stage when consumer use cases of 5G are still far from a pervasive reality.

The benefit of 5G technology, say analysts, will not be prominent for consumers at the moment. Instead, the focus will be on making the technology accessible to enterprises.

“The 5G’s merits around high speed and low latency are most suited for IoT (Internet of Things) devices and could hugely benefit certain industries like e-healthcare and pharma, manufacturing, transportation, retail and logistics, etc. The  entertainment and media industry, especially after the introduction of metaverse, will see a lot of uptake of 5G,” Ashootosh Chand, Partner, Digital and Emerging Technologies, PwC India, told ThePrint.  

Also Read: 5G could lead to a big jump in financial inclusion, but govt must take lead, say experts

Sobering outlook for consumers

Apple has started beta testing a new update that would make 5G available for owners of existing models, while Samsung India has said that the company recorded a 178 per cent increase in sales of 5G smartphones in value terms between January-September 2022 on a year-on-year basis. 

Network operators, too, have been scrambling to market their 5G services, promising that these would be available soon after the launch in October. 

Users, however, have complained that not only is 5G coverage sparse, the difference in speed as compared to 4G isn’t always perceptible. 

Analysts have a sobering view on the ongoing hype surrounding 5G phone sales, saying that the benefit of 5G for consumers will likely be minimal for the time being.

Director General of Cellular Operators Association of India Lt. Gen. Dr S.P. Kochhar told ThePrint that there are plenty of discussions to be had on 5G since there is less clarity on how smaller industries will deploy their services or how consumers could truly benefit. 

“Private networks do have their marketing strategies and it is necessary to understand how industries could benefit from this technology,” Kochhar said. “We all are consumers. How does a faster download through 5G help me? How will it be different from 4G, if you are saying we can download a movie in a few seconds — how exactly will that be of any use to consumers? Gaming, yes. Since there are real-time interactions.” 

At the moment, he said, 5G is a want rather than a need.

Chand, too, agrees that there won’t be any significant difference between 4G and 5G for consumers at this stage. “It has the potential to redefine many B2B use cases. We are not talking about the enterprise use cases enough. Few people are aware that companies can set up their own 5G network, they can take the bandwidth from the operator, so 5G for all practical purposes (for now) would be this. If I were an OTT player I would be able to set up my own 5G network by using a ‘network-in-a-box’, which opens new chances of engagement and monetisation,” he said.

“Businesses will face teething issues when they start off and look at scaling rapidly. While 5G phones have become available in the market, customers have started using them in smaller numbers. Telecom operators have spent  a lot of money getting licenses and would like to monetise those investments,” Chand added.

Also Read: Jio 5G will reach every town, taluka, tehsil by Dec 2023 in fastest rollout: Mukesh Ambani

‘Need to go hand-in-hand’

While it looks like the enterprise use case is taking precedence over the consumer one for now, there is a view that both should grow hand-in-hand.

Professor Abhay Karandikar, director, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, told ThePrint : “We are in need of both equally. Both customer and enterprise use cases are important since we are in need of primary broadband in our daily lives. There is a heavy need for that. We need the consumers also to have an enhanced experience and although it might be slow now, eventually it will pick up.” 

Karandikar added that the current experience with 5G is not that different from what happened with the 4G rollout, or 3G before that.

“Companies like Apple are trying to target premium customers who may be willing to try the first versions of this technology,” he added. “It will slowly be more spread out and affordable. This happened during the 3G-4G time as well wherein limited customers experienced the initial roll out and it was not as expansive.” 

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

Also Read: Excited for 5G? You may have to wait a bit longer for the ‘real’ thing, says telcos body chief


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