5G is coming, but do people care how much it could change the world?

Americans are excited that 5G means faster mobile internet access, but many don't see the benefits of other emerging 5G tech, including AR, VR, and drones, according to a PwC survey.

5G High speed network connection. Reaching 5g, speedometer closeup view. 3d illustration

Image: Rawf8, Getty Images/iStockphoto

A survey of Americans' understanding and attitudes toward 5G has found that most respondents know what it is, but it seems few people are aware of, or perhaps don't care, what it has the potential to do.

The survey, conducted by consulting firm PwC, finds that there's no doubt consumers know about 5G—in just the past 18 months rural awareness of 5G has jumped 27% to 76%, putting it roughly even with urban (79%) and suburban (78%) awareness. 

SEE: 5G: What it means for IoT (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

Respondents were excited about the incremental upgrades that 5G will bring, including faster mobile internet access (70%) and more reliable service (72%). Half of people are even willing to pay extra per month on their mobile bill for 5G service they perceive as more reliable.

PwC's report doesn't provide a full ranking of all responses, but it does state that many people are much less enthused about the emerging tech that's coming with 5G.

Augmented reality and virtual reality, drone delivery, holographic phone calls, and other novel technology that may come with the spread of 5G doesn't seem to be exciting to most consumers—but why? 

The report concludes that people are not simply understanding what 5G can do. "Once consumers have experienced for themselves these benefits of 5G, they are much more likely to recognize the value it offers in their daily lives."

SEE: 5G: What it means for IoT (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Should businesses worry about consumers' lack of enthusiasm for 5G?

Businesses haven't stopped investing in 5G, PwC said, but should they be worried that consumers won't care about new technologies once they're available? 

Dan Hays, principal at PwC's Strategy& group, said that 5G is a bit different than previous telecom breakthroughs since the digital age began. "With 3G and 4G, speed was pretty much it, and that's easy to convey to consumers. 5G has a lot of non-speed factors, and that can be hard to convey." 

A lot of the new things 5G will bring to the digital world will be practically invisible, Hays said, but that doesn't mean businesses should hold back. Quite the opposite, in fact. 

"It may be for the first time that enterprises actually have a more compelling case for early adoption than consumers," Hays said. Much of what makes 5G special isn't consumer facing: It's the multicasting, the lower latency, the edge computing, and other things that change the way businesses deliver data.

SEE: Special report: How 5G will transform business (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In essence, 5G will be yet another way in which technology is made more abstract. All of the complicated bits that make 5G more than just newer, faster wireless are largely invisible to its users.

"I remember when buying a new computer meant having to figure out what kind of processor you wanted, how much disk space you need," Hays said. "Now who has to worry about that sort of stuff?"

So whether consumers don't know, or don't care, about how 5G will change their lives doesn't matter for businesses: 5G will change consumers' lives whether they realize it or not.

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