Nov 3, 7:04 pm

Warming up for 5G – What do consumers expect?

5G has become a hot topic for telecom operators, vendors, policymakers and others across countries and industries. But what about the consumers? Are they excited about the new technology? In a presentation at TM Forum Digital Transformation Asia in Kuala Lumpur this November, IBM’s Rob van den Dam will reveal the results of a recent global consumer survey and discuss the 5G services and experiences consumers crave.

Though expectations of 5G are high, its future is still rather blurred. On the business side, vendors are suggesting the business cases and benefits are strong enough to prioritize 5G investments. Internationally, South Korea, Japan and China seem determined to lead on the 5G path, while a 5G war seems to be waging among operators. The pace of 5G innovation in many other markets is slower, and the enthusiasm is more muted, with even many operators remaining skeptical about the commercial business cases.

But what about the consumer view on 5G? Do they know what it’s all about? How excited are they? To what extent are they even aware it as the new network technology? The IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) surveyed nearly 12,500 consumers in 21 countries. These countries represent 62% of the global population and 77% of global GDP.


Almost two-thirds of respondents reported awareness of 5G as a follow up to 4G/LTE. This ranges from having some idea about 5G to being very familiar with it. Perhaps surprisingly, respondents in emerging countries are more familiar with 5G than those in mature countries, with China reporting the highest 5G awareness (82%). Once educated as to what 5G brings to the table, 81% of respondents in emerging countries and 49% in mature countries say they are very excited about the technology.


Respondents are most excited about 5G applications in media and entertainment. They identified ultra-high-definition (UHD) video, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (VR), and other immersive media as the most appealing applications. They are less excited about 5G applications in areas such as smart home, AR/VR augmented shopping, and digital healthcare (see figure below).

Enthusiasm for high quality streaming video

Selected by 57% of the respondents, UHD video is by far the most relevant 5G application for consumers as mobile device streaming frustrations persist, including load times, rebuffering, playback, picture quality, and synchronization in particular. A 53% of respondents — and up to 65% in India — indicated they experience these kinds of problems regularly or often.

Clearly, people are longing for high quality viewing experiences in both linear (e.g. live streaming) and nonlinear video (e.g. on demand). The biggest 5G win for streaming video isn’t simply the significantly higher throughput speed, but also the extremely low latency that vastly reduces stalling and buffering, and helps enable organizations to deliver higher resolution live streaming.

In the mid- to long-term, UHD video formats such as 4K and 8K will become common for videos viewed on mobile devices. AT&T and Fox Sports already tested streaming 4K video over 5G at the 2018 US Open golf tournament. Meanwhile, China Mobile, the China Media group and Huawei are currently test-streaming 4K high dynamic range (HDR) video over 5G, and Disney is partnering with Verizon to test 5G applications for video content distribution.

Embracing immersive media

Immersive content encompassing deeply engaging, multisensory, digital experiences using technologies such virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 360-degree video, and 3D techniques has caught the enthusiasm of consumers. Current mobile networks cannot meet the bandwidth and latency demands these applications require, but 5G networks are expected to step up.

Virtual Reality

Current VR applications are still in their infancy. Low-end headsets lack computing power, limiting graphics quality, while the higher-end headsets are better but more expensive. And, complex elements in the devices increase headset weight, and the headset usually needs to be connected to a computer with a cable, limiting the player’s mobility and hence the overall VR experience.

Cloud, edge computing, and 5G will be critical to moving VR forward. The faster speeds and lower latency of 5G mean complex processing can be done in the cloud (or on the cloud edge), which provides more computational power. Offloading much of the intensive processing to the cloud means much smaller and more practical, powerful, energy-efficient and cheaper headsets that enable wider VR adoption

Augmented reality

AR could hit the mainstream rapidly; it is already embedded in many frequently used applications. Consider the popularity Snapchat and Instagram filters that include images, stickers, and emojis. And, of course, a very notable example is the renowned Pokémon Go game.

Artificially intelligent (AI) technology is expected to be more essential for AR than for VR, allowing computers to understand what they are seeing through cameras, and identifying and labeling objects in the user’s field of vision. Continuous AI advances mean these features will become increasingly sophisticated. Together with fully functioning 5G networks, AI could enable a whole new wave of deeply integrated AR experiences.

AR applications are already very popular in music and concerts adding to the music industry’s cutting-edge vibe particularly in this era of elaborate music festivals where live concerts into high tech experiences that wow the audience. Theatricality can, for example, radically increase by partnering AR-generated characters from songs with real-life artists on stage (see how AR put five Madonnas on stage at once).

Escalating demand for eSports

The world of competitive organized video games is treated as a professional sport, evolving at a pace unrivaled in any other sport, and slated to become a legitimate competitor to traditional sports. 5G is also important to fuel the growing eSports industry. The incredibly low latency of 5G will mean more seamless, uninterrupted gaming, fueling the growing eSports industry further.

This subsequently means telcos are a vital component of the eSports ecosystems, with many even also organizing eSports tournaments. The major French operator Orange, for example, partnered with e-Ligue 1, the official FIFA tournament for France’s professional football league. AT&T is partnering with ESL for a mobile eSports league, and Vodafone and ESL recently launched the Vodafone 5G ESL Mobile Open, a mobile gaming tournament, featuring the first Grand Final in competitive international sports to be played live over a 5G network.

Concluding remarks

The rewards of the 5G era are expected to flow to those organizations most capable of embracing its opportunities. In the context of consumer applications, forward-thinking telecom and media companies should make the delivery of high-quality video streaming experiences to customers central to their strategies. They must also consider investing in emerging technologies – such as AR and VR – as an extension of their digital strategies. Providers could also think about making eSports a key element in their marketing strategies as a means to engage with the younger online audience.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Softmind Technologies.

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