LIVE FROM 5G WORLD 2018, LONDON: Scott Petty (pictured) warned intensive 5G publicity could create a “trough of disillusionment” which could impact customer take-up and investment, as operators and vendors flaunt technology firsts in the coming months.

The executive said with 5G relying heavily on 4G in the early stages, “it enables us to leverage software features that already work, technology capabilities that are already tried and tested, and we can add new capabilities as they come into the market”.

“On the downside, it creates some opportunities for confusion. If you think about the headline-grabbing tag lines that marketers and heads of state like to use, 5G is about high speeds, it’s all about low latency and it’s about massive IoT deployment. All of those are possible with 4G and 4G Evolution.”

Petty warned: “The need for 5G creates an opportunity for non-technical people to create confusion in the marketplace, to start tagging 4G features as 5G features.”

With the boundaries between 4G and 5G blurred, the industry is facing “a period of uncertainty over the next 12 months, where lots of people are claiming lots of things”.

“Hopefully, that confusion won’t create challenges that slow down our industry or, more importantly, dissuades our customers from the technology,” he said.

Petty also noted 4G benefitted from a number of related factors including strong growth in the smartphone market: “A lot of users upgraded because they wanted the latest iPhone or Android device, that happened to come with 4G, and they happened to then subscribe to 4G networks,” he said.

“If I was taking a slightly negative view in the 5G world, the question is if that innovation is going to happen in the terminals market at the same speed it did in 4G.”

In terms of growth markets like IoT, there is also a strong possibility applications which need 5G networks and cannot be served by 4G are not around the corner: “I’m a little bit sceptical that those are going to happen any time in the next three-to-five years,” he said. Some markets, such as automotive, which have long lead times will adopt 5G first, while others wait for module prices to come down.

While criticising the hype in the market, Petty said Vodafone’s launch plans means it “certainly won’t be last, and we’d like to be first with true 5G”. The early 5G business case will focus on its cost benefits in saturated markets, where “we think we can get four-times better capacity usage than we do today”.

“I don’t think in this case it will be operators that will be dragging their feet, it’s having the technologies that are working and operating model that we can support, in an economic model that makes sense to us. We should as an industry be able to move forward at a pace that makes sense from a 5G perspective.”