The industry has high hopes for 5G, and with good reason. It’s expected to accelerate the development and adoption of highly anticipated applications like autonomous vehicles. It’s expected to do nothing short of revolutionize communication, paving the way to the most connected world yet. Allied Market Research values the global 5G technology market at $5.53 billion in 2020, and projects the market will reach nearly $668 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 122.3%.

Thanks to its high throughput and low latency, IDTechEx says 5G technologies will redefine and accelerate industries such as automotive, entertainment, computing, and manufacturing, among others. Certainly, 5G is one of the biggest market opportunities in the next decade, but it also requires a lot of investment. Costs are certainly a hinderance, and carriers have been facing a chicken-and-the-egg situation—do they invest in building out networks on just the promise of the benefits, before 5G devices and applications are really available to prove its worth?

In its “5G Technology, Market and Forecasts 2020-2030” report, IDTechEx points out there’s an “unclear map” of killer applications for 5G. In fact, a lack of understanding seems to plague 5G, hindering projects at every turn. On the enterprise level, less-than-airtight business cases stem from a continued need for more use cases and proven benefits. On the consumer level, there’s confusion too. A recent study from GWS (Global Wireless Solutions) sampled more than 5,000 adults in the U.S. and discovered consumers are confused about the availability and benefits of 5G networks and devices.

More than a quarter (29%) of the consumers surveyed said they’re unsure whether their current device is 5G capable or not, and 38% aren’t sure if their wireless carrier provides 5G coverage where they live. About half (49%) of iPhone users surveyed said they believe their current iPhone is capable of accessing 5G, even though the survey was taken before the recent release of the new iPhone 12, Apple’s first 5G smartphone.

Despite interest in 5G (76% said they are either “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in 5G innovation), 38% said they’re not willing to pay more for a 5G device. Many (28%) admitted they don’t understand how 5G would directly benefit them. However, respondents did foresee 5G’s benefit for critical applications like smart cities, telehealth, public safety, and emergency response. More than half (54%) believe 5G deployment could help with current and future crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has delayed some 5G rollouts, and, in fact, Lux Research suggests the market shifted away from 5G for the first half of 2020 thanks to demand reductions and supply chain issues. However, it’s looking like in the end, COVID-19 will accelerate society’s path to 5G by throwing into sharp relief the need for super-fast speeds and low latency. Remote work and remote learning have made it necessary for more people and more businesses than ever to need high data speeds and increased network support. Confusion about the benefits of 5G remains, though, and the industry must look for ways to provide education as well as demonstrate use cases with ROI (return on investment) to make it clear what 5G can and will offer industries and individuals.

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