5G and the Next Cycle of Software Innovation

I find the 5G debate interesting. There is always a good reason to be skeptical when on the cusp of new technologies, but there is also a great deal of misunderstanding around 5G that many of the authors here at Tech.pinions have tried to address. As we transition to 5G, we inevitably get many benefits. The most obvious one is more bandwidth capacity. Not only will we get faster internet connections wirelessly, but the wireless networks themselves will also be able to sustain high-speed bandwidth for their customers at a concurrent point in time. Meaning, the more people on a particular cell tower at a time won’t slow the network.

The benefits to this go beyond the quality of service as we all like to play games, or stream movies to our devices and we want both high quality and low-latency when we do so. The more people on the network doing this at the same time the worse the experience has been historically. 5G looks to change this, but it won’t be an overnight fix.

While I have no doubt the foundation to bring 5G will be worked out, it is the broader benefits of that foundation I’m most interested in.

New Richer and Immersive Media
In some ways, the Fortnite phenomenon will likely open the floodgates to a new wave of innovation, for which 5G is essential. Fortnite is best understood as not just a game but also a hangout to the Gen Y and Z masses who spend the most time on it. This experience may become the new bar that software and service providers must hit to compete. The idea that millions of people, and someday hundreds of millions of people, can simultaneously experience and interact in real time in a rich digital environment is both compelling and uncharted territory.

This uncharted territory is where I think the most interesting innovations, which 5G will enable, will spring up. If we look back at 3G, then 4G, we see how each network evolution led to new software and services. Notably, each tended to enable a much more visual experience. This is true looking back historically at the Internet’s evolution as a whole. Each time we saw a speed bump in Internet speeds the web experience itself became more visual and media rich. Which stands to reason, the shift to 5G will bring even more immersive, interactive and visually rich software and services.

For a glimpse of where this trend I like to call “be together even when apart” may be heading check out this app called Squad that is targeting teens and allows them so screen share from their mobile device and interact with apps together on one device.

This app has been exciting to watch my daughters use with their friends since I told them about it. The first thing they did was work on homework together. Notably, it was to share notes and go over specific answers to homework together. But the compelling part of this that catches my eye builds upon how much I notice my girls FaceTime with each other while doing homework. This app has allowed them to continue to FaceTime but also add screen sharing into the equation on their iPad’s. Essentially, this is an integrated approach to collaboration with a consumer-friendly spin. And it requires a significant amount of bandwidth even to be usable, which adds to the 5G story as enablement for innovation around this space.

Using just Fortnite, and Squad as an example, a clear picture emerges as the kinds of new apps and visual/immersive experiences 5G will enable. But it will also start to set the stage for a broader augmented reality future.

5G and Augmented Reality
We can debate the merits of virtual reality, but it seems a foregone conclusion that augmented reality will bring more tangible and real-world value to the mass consumer market. This is an area of software design where 5G will help the most due to the demands on both the device and the network.

Augmented reality is an area where I don’t think we have yet to scratch the surface. We have seen signposts of where this market may be headed, but I can confidently say I don’t think we have begun to see the most interesting augmented reality apps and experiences that will generate demand among mainstream consumers.

What makes all these related points most interesting is when we understand how historically each leap in broadband led to a software innovation cycle. We can include, for the first time I think, the element that in the 5G cycle we will see more innovation in services than ever before. In part, some software experiences will transition to services models, and in some cases, we will see new services models and businesses emerge.

While I’m keenly aware of people not wanting to get caught up in the hype of 5G, I do think it bears remembering that it will likely lead to an innovation cycle in software and services and being on the lookout for these trends will benefit the industry observer.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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