5G: Truth, Lies, and Narratives


As 2023 kicked off and the ecosystem started to prepare for the new year, media reports started to trickle in casting doubts on 5G’s impact. The questions during the earnings calls are getting more pointed and direct. At the annual industry gathering at Mobile World Congress, the headlines were markedly grim.

But 5G is just kicking into high gear.

With over a billion subscribers with 5G devices, the current generation is the fastest ever deployed, at roughly 3-4x faster pace than 4G.

In 2022, the US had its best year in terms of net-adds and service revenue. In fact, it was the first $200B year for the US market. A good portion of the growth can definitely be attributed to 5G.

So, 5G is a hit?

But, but .. If we look at the ARPU growth, only 6 out of 16 countries with more than 5M subs have seen positive ARPU growth since the 5G launch. Is 5G to credit or blame for that or are there other factors at work that can shape the story?

US regulators have allocated the most amount of spectrum for 5G but if vast majority is not being used, is that a useful metric?

Hold on to your horses! On the back of its expansive 5G network, T-Mobile has reconfigured the US wireless market and along with Verizon create a new multi-billion-dollar category in fixed wireless which has severely disrupted the mature US broadband market.

Sure, but the fanciful dreams of a physician doing remote surgery from sitting on the beach in Bali while sipping pina-colada haven’t quite panned out, have they? And private networks haven’t taken off, CBRS has been a bust, metaverse has melted before our eyes, CIOs don’t care about edge and so 5G hasn’t lived up to the promise it aspired to.

But, what’s the frame of reference?

In China, 5G is being integrated in every facet of the enterprise life. The country has over 500M subs with 5G devices. Revenues from the new 5G enabled services has catapulted China Mobile to recapture the number one operator spot in the world in terms of valuation for the first time since 2015.

As you can see, the story of 5G is like the fable of the elephant and the blind men ……….

  • Introduction
  • Narratology – Sands of Time
  • Why must Management take the prevailing narratives seriously?
  • Setting the Stage – The 5G Hype Cycle and the Missing Pieces
  • The Good
  • The Bad
  • The Ugly
  • 5G Growth
  • Subscribers
  • Revenues
  • 5G Enterprise Services
  • 5G Ecosystem: Impact on Innovation and Growth
  • Conclusions

Editorial Notes:

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