PwC expects 5G to hit a tipping point in 2023

Mobile gaming and wearables are the most promising early use cases, the firm says, while smart factories and self-driving cars are farther in the future.

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PwC predicts these 5G products and services are most likely to be implemented during this growth period for the high-speed service.

Image: 5G

A new 5G report from PwC has advice about how businesses should use this phase of the 5G transformation to plan new services and retrain employees.

In "Making 5G Real," PwC analysts expect 5G to hit a tipping point in 2023 due to consumer upgrade cycles and deployment challenges, both influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report suggests that coverage will grow faster than device penetration. PwC estimates that 5G is currently at 75% availability of coverage but only 8% in terms of device penetration. By the middle of this year, coverage will be up to 85% but device penetration will be at only 12%. This means that a significant percentage of Americans will have access to 5G at home or work but the performance of the networks will remain uneven, according to the report. More mid-band spectrum is expected to make coverage better in urban and suburban areas.

To understand what this means for businesses, consumers, and telecom providers, PwC analysts looked at promising strategies and the 5G use cases that are most likely to become a reality in the  next five years. Dan Hays, a leader in US technology, media and telecommunications corporate strategy at PwC, said now is the time for all companies to start assessing the possibilities that 5G brings.

"Enterprises should be thinking through how 5G could be used to improve their products and services, enhance the customer experience, and streamline operations," he said.

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

Here are the recommendations from the report.

Key components of a 5G strategy

PwC analysts say that the tipping point for 5G is not here yet. Businesses should use this time to define what 5G means for their operations and their customers. PwC recommends that companies take these factors into consideration when developing a 5G strategy:

  1. Strategy and timing: Determine when, where, and how to launch a product or service built on 5G.
  2. Operational costs: Plan for higher operational costs initially for solutions that require 5G's low latency or edge computing features.
  3. Workforce planning: Consider reorganizing and retraining marketing, sales, and operations teams to maximize 5G investments.
  4. Trust: Design and deploy data privacy and protection measures to comply with GDPR and CCPA.

Most likely use cases in the next five years

Given the limitation of device penetration at this point, PwC reports that these are the 5G products and services that consumers will see soon:

  • Augmented reality
  • Cloud gaming
  • IoT/wearables/healthcare monitoring
  • Smart cities/public safety

Hays said that he expects that early uses of enhanced mobile broadband and fixed wireless access will boost cloud-based gaming and augmented reality.

"These will continue to expand as 5G coverage and device availability grows," he said.

Hays said that the case for 5G use in enterprises is even more compelling.

"The most high-value use cases are likely to win early adoption, in particular, remote healthcare,  virtual work, and private networks are garnering significant attention," he said. 

PwC predicts that these use cases will require more time and infrastructure before becoming widespread:

  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Drones
  • Remote surgery
  • Smart factory projects
  • Virtual reality

Strategies for telecom providers

The PwC report touches on the challenges that telecom providers face with the 5G rollout ranging from the cost of building the network to operational redesign and workforce transformation. To maximize coverage across the country, PwC recommends that carriers launch 5G services that work with 4G core mobile networks. This will ease the transition from one type of service to another. The report also suggests that telecom companies use fixed wireless to expand high-speed broadband availability in areas where installing fiber optic lines is complex or expensive, such as rural areas and highly populated urban areas.

Telecom providers also need to look into revenue streams from a new source: B2B2X, which PwC describes as business to business to consumer or business to business to business. This new category of services could include offering video and IoT products to both large enterprises and small to midsized companies.

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