5G was launched in India back in Oct 2022. But now, about 14 months since, 5G has reached almost every city or town in the country. Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel are the telcos leading the 5G rollout in the country, with the third-private telecom player Vodafone Idea (Vi) still trying to raise funds to start rolling out 5G. With more than 100 million 5G consumers in India, and more than a billion 5G connections globally, the important question to ask is, does it make sense for an average consumer to pay extra for the next-generation network technology?
The benefits for enterprises are pretty clear! But what about the average consumer? For many, 5G still doesn't add any further utility than what 4G already does. Decent 4G speeds can touch 20-30 Mbps at all times, which is enough to connect devices with a mobile hotspot, or stream movies/tv shows online, use social media, and more. Does a consumer need anything more than this today?
Sure, there might be a niche consumer base that would require a high-speed network such as 5G that can deliver download speeds of more than 300 Mbps at all times to do their work. These people might be creators, that are downloading heavy video assets on the go to edit their video content, or these might be gamers, that require high-speed download along with ultra-low latencies to play games online seamlessly. But many of these people can also access Wi-Fi networks at hotels, and event avenues, and again when they are at their offices/homes, they can connect to their fiber broadband connection.
So the additional utility that 5G brings for them isn't good enough. Especially when the upload speeds that they get are pretty slow. Without decent upload speeds, creators can't really upload what they are making on time, which defeats the purpose of making content. So how does 5G really make a difference in the lives of consumers today?
Telcos and vendors such as Ericsson and Nokia look at 5G FWA (fixed-wireless access) as the top use case of 5G for consumers today. Reliance Jio has already reached about 4000 towns/cities with Jio AirFiber, its 5G FWA service. With time, it will be interesting to see how people respond to 5G FWA in India.
Bharti Airtel suggests consumers to go for fiber over airfiber, which means that 5G isn't the superior technology here for consumers. Fiber is still the best option if a user is at a fixed location such as their home or office for consuming high-speed internet. So how does 5G make any difference for an everyday consumer?
Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Enterprises said recently that 5G has come way too early. It looks that way. Consumers won't mind 5G as long as they keep getting free data at the same cost. But how will the telcos monetise it is something only time will tell. While 5G FWA is a way through which telcos are already monetising 5G, it will be interesting to see what new ways they come up with to earn money from 5G through consumers.