The State of 5G: Timing is Everything

As momentum for 5G builds, so does pent-up demand for ubiquitous access to lightning-fast downloads, millisecond latency and a treasure trove of transformative mobile data applications. Creating a 5G infrastructure with massive end-to end network upgrades, requires a significant amount of innovation, investment, and resources.  

The findings of Molex’s recently released “The State of 5G” survey reveal steady progress across all corners of the 5G landscape, even though we’re still at the early stages of what’s needed to achieve all that 5G is poised to offer. 

Nearly all survey participants expect to achieve their 5G business goals within five years—a quarter of that group already is recognizing substantial benefits. Interestingly, more than 50% of consumers in Japan and Korea are among those already benefiting from 5G deployments.  Three-quarters of U.S. consumers expect to see incremental benefits over the next two to five years with continued deployment of base stations, small cell networks and overall infrastructure. As a result, 5G should fuel more growth and product development in advanced devices and applications as the 5G network becomes more readily available across the globe.  

According to the survey’s more than 200 stakeholders involved in 5G within the carrier community, hurdles still must be cleared before the technology can reach its full potential.  Respondents unanimously agreed they were facing ongoing challenges with spectrum issues, lack of consumer use cases and regulations while also being impeded by the maturity of technology and overall infrastructure costs. These factors, among others, prevented 46% of those polled from staying on track with actual 5G deployments in 2020.

That said, the picture still featured several notable bright spots.  While Covid had a profound impact on the global economy and various industries, a surprising 33% surveyed stated that Covid accelerated 5G technology roadmap development while 19% improved their efforts to launch and deploy 5G.  However, 54% of respondents reported delays with deployments as well as future roadmaps (39%).

A Masterclass in Collaboration

Aligning all parts and players in the 5G ecosystem requires a masterclass in collaboration. It’s an epic task to coordinate infrastructure upgrades, extensive buildouts of outdoor small cells, development of new edge-computing devices, and much more. Coordination with chipset makers, software developers, hardware manufacturers and connectivity solutions providers also must be fostered to ensure everyone innovates to the new 5G standards.

According to those polled, the most important technology or industry changes that network operators need to meet their business goals are reduced infrastructure costs (41%), innovation in enabling technology (31%) and availability of new device types that require connectivity (26%).

Equally important is seeking opportunities for gradual transitions to 5G wherever possible, so not everything has to be addressed as a quantum leap in cost and capability. In assessing the potential of incremental improvements, survey respondents identified mmWave (39%), sub-6 (32%) and wide-area low power (29%) as the first 5G enablers to drive benefits.

Once network buildouts gain traction, sub-6 will deliver big improvements over LTE, with lower latencies and faster speeds—all accomplished using some of the existing infrastructure, modems, antennas and components. On the other hand, mmWave represents a huge step-change.

Since it involves a higher frequency, mmWave deployment requires chipsets for mobile devices to include all the key RF components on the same integrated circuit, including antennas. On the interconnect side, tolerances on mmWave connectors must be precisely tuned. Additionally, a much larger infrastructure investment will be required to address mmWave’s limited range. Of course, that’s where small cells come into the picture as they can be used to extend the reach.

All things considered, mmWave holds promise, but there are significant challenges. That is why 86% of our survey participants felt that while the technology had more potential than other parts of 5G, it also carried more risk.

Does 5G Need a Killer App?

At this point, it’s pretty clear that the power of 5G will drive the consumption of a seemingly endless stream of data to inform and transform how we live, work and play. In the consumer space, about a third of Molex’s survey respondents felt that AR/VR, gaming or smart-home apps would lead the way while robotics, logistics and factories would benefit greatly from industrial and IIoT use cases.

One day in the not-too-distant future, a host of compelling use cases will materialize, such as 5G-enabled connected cars, remote surgeries, and smart grids. Speculating about it today feels a little like writing our own sci-fi novels. While no one knows exactly how far out on the horizon those innovations are, Molex is uniquely positioned to support 5G with products, services and capabilities that allow the industry to explore and unleash the full potential of 5G in ways the world has yet to see.

Virtuous Cycle of Innovation

To accelerate 5G’s growth, we need a virtuous cycle of innovation that spans investments in infrastructures, chipsets and mobile devices. Once more scale in 5G-connected devices is achieved, opportunities will unfold for application developers to create more powerful use cases.

As these new applications and devices gain momentum, the opportunity to increase coverage and device speed will spur further investments and innovations in infrastructure and devices. As this virtuous cycle of innovation gains steam, the circle widens to include the whole ecosystem of carriers, network equipment OEMs, device OEMs, chipset makers, component makers and app developers as well as cloud and edge providers—it’s a big and inclusive group.

At Molex, we’ve been hard at work engaging with customers and partners on all sides of 5G, including infrastructure, devices, and components, and they are driving significant progress toward the evolving promise of 5G. We already supply connectors for leading mobile phones as well as products that connect to industry-leading mobile chipsets. Every day, we leverage our knowledge working with the largest cloud and network service providers to reduce adoption barriers and drive innovation in the advancement of 5G. Additionally, we’re boosting our abilities to produce industry-leading connected health devices as well as antennas and other solutions for connected cars. This is all being done with one steadfast commitment: Ensure our customers and partners will not only be ready for 5G – they’ll be at the forefront.

For us, there’s no time like the present to prepare for all the future opportunities and possibilities 5G will bring. 

President, Datacom Solutions at Molex