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Looking Ahead To A 5G Future

What will this mean for handset sales?

This is Part IV of the TWICE Retail Executive Roundtable, held during CES 2019.
Part I, in which participants shared Q4 results, can be found here
Part II, with discussions of selling the smart home, is here.
Part III, which explores the current hiring market, is here. 

TWICE: AI was mentioned as a game-changing technology. What about 5G?

Michael D. McMahon, national retail, direct2consumer & distribution strategy, Sprint: I had a meeting a month ago with America’s largest retailer. They are interested in 5G because of what is in the marketplace and how it’s the next revolution for technology. It opens the doors to conductivity that we couldn’t have, like autonomous vehicles, since it requires 5G speeds. Logistics, supply chain, product management, and autonomous vehicles are a reality being discussed today.

The race will be deployment, the depth and the breadth. Consumer electronics are ready for that adoption; for example, Apple announced for 2020. 2019 will be the first devices and network broad enough for the public to see its speed and capabilities. There are basic platforms in the home that have direct impact with cable companies. Mainstream adaptation and technology implications come out in 2020.

See also: What 5G Could Mean For CE (And The Retailers Selling It)

Stephen Baker, tech industry analyst, The NPD Group: LTE is probably the most underrated technology advancement in the last 10 to 20 years because that’s what really fueled the growth in phones.

McMahon: There would be no iPhone success today without LTE.

Baker: It made it usable online. It also fueled the whole app environment. The next interesting piece of 5G will be the things that 5G will be the catalyst for. People are thinking about delivering video to people’s home as being a game-changing use of that technology.

McMahon: Certainly in two years from now, at least one or two industries will be severely disrupted by 5G. But things that are being imagined today will become practical in a couple of years.

TWICE: Does 5G spell the end of the cable company?

McMahon: I don’t know that there’s enough bandwidth in over-the-air (OTA) delivery. It might not erase the bottom, but we’ll see carriers will use bandwidth and not leave it on a shelf. Each carrier has announced a mobile 5G solution.

Trevor May, executive director, vendor management, D&H Distributing: It’s curious to see all the change from my standpoint. I wonder if Wi-Fi coexists with 5G or if you just connect to the cellular 5G. Then around programming, the big networks deal with the cable companies. Do they want to also deal with the 5G providers, as you can see people consuming so much content on their devices? Do they go through cable companies by dealing with the two people who deliver content?

See also: Qualcomm Declares 2019 ‘The Year Of 5G’

McMahon: If you look in the wireless space, how many of the major companies have tried to become a media company instead of the dumb pipe (delivery of service)? Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile. It will be interesting to see whether economics favor being the dumb pipe vs. the content provider. There have been a lot of failures over the past three years.

TWICE: Will 5G and foldable phones boost handset sales?

McMahon: It depends on the phone capabilities. As an observation from wireless sales, customers across all carriers have been upgrading at a slower rate. I’m not sure it will be an upgrade driver. For tech folks, or if there is something compelling them to make the change, they may change.

Baker: I agree we’ll see a shift around that for a couple of years, until there are compelling use cases. The biggest challenge is battery life and people that are used to form factors and improvements. Going from 3G to 4G improved everything.

McMahon: I think that’s exactly right.

Baker: Also, does 5G disrupt the phone around video or mobility? Can you talk around that? Like you said, there’s stuff going around we’re not aware of—people thinking how they can disrupt different pieces. Different parts of hardware can be disrupted by thinking about connectivity differently. 

Watch: What You Need To Know About 5G