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5G phones are here but there’s no rush to upgrade

This year’s Mobile World Congress — the CES for Android device makers — was awash with 5G handsets.
The world’s No.1 smartphone seller by marketshare, Samsung, got out ahead with a standalone launch event in San Francisco, showing off two 5G devices, just before fast-following Android rivals popped out their own 5G phones at launch events across Barcelona this week.
We’ve rounded up all these 5G handset launches here. Prices range from an eye-popping $2,600 for Huawei’s foldable phabet-to-tablet Mate X — and an equally eye-watering $1,980 for Samsung’s Galaxy Fold; another 5G handset that bends — to a rather more reasonable $680 for Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 5G, albeit the device is otherwise mid-tier. Other prices for 5G phones announced this week remain tbc.

Here are all the 5G phones announced at MWC

Android OEMs are clearly hoping the hype around next-gen mobile networks can work a little marketing magic and kick-start stalled smartphone growth. Especially with reports suggesting Apple won’t launch a 5G iPhone until at least next year. So 5G is a space Android OEMs alone get to own for a while.
Chipmaker Qualcomm, which is embroiled in a bitter patent battle with Apple, was also on stage in Barcelona to support Xiaomi’s 5G phone launch — loudly claiming the next-gen tech is coming fast and will enhance “everything”.
“We like to work with companies like Xiaomi to take risks,” lavished Qualcomm’s president Cristiano Amon upon his hosts, using 5G uptake to jibe at Apple by implication. “When we look at the opportunity ahead of us for 5G we see an opportunity to create winners.”
Despite the heavy hype, Xiaomi’s on stage demo — which it claimed was the first live 5G video call outside China — seemed oddly staged and was not exactly lacking in latency.
“Real 5G — not fake 5G!” finished Donovan Sung, the Chinese OEM’s director of product management. As a 5G sales pitch it was all very underwhelming. Much more ‘so what’ than ‘must have’.
Whether 5G marketing hype alone will convince consumers it’s past time to upgrade seems highly unlikely.
Phones sell on features rather than connectivity per se, and — whatever Qualcomm claims — 5G is being soft-launched into the market by cash-constrained carriers whose boom times lie behind them, i.e. before over-the-top players had gobbled their messaging revenues and monopolized consumer eyeballs.
All of which makes 5G an incremental consumer upgrade proposition in the near to medium term.
Use-cases for the next-gen network tech, which is touted as able to support speeds up to 100x faster than LTE and deliver latency of just a few milliseconds (as well as connecting many more devices per cell site), are also still being formulated, let alone apps and services created to leverage 5G.
But selling a network upgrade to consumers by claiming the killer apps are going to be amazing but you just can’t show them any yet is as tough as trying to make theatre out of a marginally less janky video call.
“5G could potentially help [spark smartphone growth] in a couple of years as price points lower, and availability expands, but even that might not see growth rates similar to the transition to 3G and 4G,” suggests Carolina Milanesi, principal analyst at Creative Strategies, writing in a blog post discussing Samsung’s strategy with its latest device launches.
“This is not because 5G is not important, but because it is incremental when it comes to phones and it will be other devices that will deliver on experiences, we did not even think were possible. Consumers might end up, therefore, sharing their budget more than they did during the rise of smartphones.”
The ‘problem’ for 5G — if we can call it that — is that 4G/LTE networks are capably delivering all the stuff consumers love right now: Games, apps and video. Which means that for the vast majority of consumers there’s simply no reason to rush to shell out for a ‘5G-ready’ handset. Not if 5G is all the innovation it’s got going for it.
LG V50 ThinQ 5G with a dual screen accessory for gaming
Use cases such as better AR/VR are also a tough sell given how weak consumer demand has generally been on those fronts (with the odd branded exception).
The barebones reality is that commercial 5G networks are as rare as hen’s teeth right now, outside a few limited geographical locations in the U.S. and Asia. And 5G will remain a very patchy patchwork for the foreseeable future.
Indeed, it may take a very long time indeed to achieve nationwide coverage in many countries, if 5G even ends up stretching right to all those edges. (Alternative technologies do also exist which could help fill in gaps where the ROI just isn’t there for 5G.)
So again consumers buying phones with the puffed up idea of being able to tap into 5G right here, right now (Qualcomm claimed 2019 is going to be “the year of 5G!”) will find themselves limited to just a handful of urban locations around the world.
Analysts are clear that 5G rollouts, while coming, are going to be measured and targeted as carriers approach what’s touted as a multi-industry-transforming wireless technology cautiously, with an eye on their capex and while simultaneously trying to figure out how best to restructure their businesses to engage with all the partners they’ll need to forge business relations with, across industries, in order to successfully sell 5G’s transformative potential to all sorts of enterprises — and lock onto “the sweep spot where 5G makes sense”.
Enterprise rollouts therefore look likely to be prioritized over consumer 5G — as was the case for 5G launches in South Korea at the back end of last year.
“4G was a lot more driven by the consumer side and there was an understanding that you were going for national coverage that was never really a question and you were delivering on the data promise that 3G never really delivered… so there was a gap of technology that needed to be filled. With 5G it’s much less clear,” says Gartner’s Sylvain Fabre, discussing the tech’s hype and the reality with TechCrunch ahead of MWC.
“4G’s very good, you have multiple networks that are Gbps or more and that’s continuing to increase on the downlink with multiple carrier aggregation… and other densification schemes. So 5G doesn’t… have as gap as big to fill. It’s great but again it’s applicability of where it’s uniquely positioned is kind of like a very narrow niche at the moment.”
“It’s such a step change that the real power of 5G is actually in creating new business models using network slicing — allocation of particular aspects of the network to a particular use-case,” Forrester analyst Dan Bieler also tells us. “All of this requires some rethinking of what connectivity means for an enterprise customer or for the consumer.
“And telco sales people, the telco go-to-market approach is not based on selling use-cases, mostly — it’s selling technologies. So this is a significant shift for the average telco distribution channel to go through. And I would believe this will hold back a lot of the 5G ambitions for the medium term.”
To be clear, carriers are now actively kicking the tyres of 5G, after years of lead-in hype, and grappling with technical challenges around how best to upgrade their existing networks to add in and build out 5G.
Many are running pilots and testing what works and what doesn’t, such as where to place antennas to get the most reliable signal and so on. And a few have put a toe in the water with commercial launches (globally there are 23 networks with “some form of live 5G in their commercial networks” at this point, according to Fabre.)
But at the same time 5G network standards are yet to be fully finalized so the core technology is not 100% fully baked. And with it being early days “there’s still a long way to go before we have a real significant impact of 5G type of services”, as Bieler puts it. 
There’s also spectrum availability to factor in and the cost of acquiring the necessary spectrum. As well as the time required to clear and prepare it for commercial use. (On spectrum, government policy is critical to making things happen quickly (or not). So that’s yet another factor moderating how quickly 5G networks can be built out.)
And despite some wishful thinking industry noises at MWC this week — calling for governments to ‘support digitization at scale’ by handing out spectrum for free (uhhhh, yeah right) — that’s really just whistling into the wind.
Rolling out 5G networks is undoubtedly going to be very expensive, at a time when carriers’ businesses are already faced with rising costs (from increasing data consumption) and subdued revenue growth forecasts.
“The world now works on data” and telcos are “at core of this change”, as one carrier CEO — Singtel’s Chua Sock Koong — put it in an MWC keynote in which she delved into the opportunities and challenges for operators “as we go from traditional connectivity to a new age of intelligent connectivity”.
Chua argued it will be difficult for carriers to compete “on the basis of connectivity alone” — suggesting operators will have to pivot their businesses to build out standalone business offerings selling all sorts of b2b services to support the digital transformations of other industries as part of the 5G promise — and that’s clearly going to suck up a lot of their time and mind for the foreseeable future.
In Europe alone estimates for the cost of rolling out 5G range between €300BN and €500BN (~$340BN-$570BN), according to Bieler. Figures that underline why 5G is going to grow slowly, and networks be built out thoughtfully; in the b2b space this means essentially on a case-by-case basis.
Simply put carriers must make the economics stack up. Which means no “huge enormous gambles with 5G”. And omnipresent ROI pressure pushing them to try to eke out a premium.
“A lot of the network equipment vendors have turned down the hype quite a bit,” Bieler continues. “If you compare this to the hype around 3G many years ago or 4G a couple of years ago 5G definitely comes across as a soft launch. Sort of an evolutionary type of technology. I have not come across a network equipment vendors these days who will say there will be a complete change in everything by 2020.”

On the consumer pricing front, carriers have also only just started to grapple with 5G business models. One early example is TC parent Verizon’s 5G home service — which positions the next-gen wireless tech as an alternative to fixed line broadband with discounts if you opt for a wireless smartphone data plan as well as 5G broadband.
From the consumer point of view, the carrier 5G business model conundrum boils down to: What is my carrier going to charge me for 5G? And early adopters of any technology tend to get stung on that front.
Although, in mobile, price premiums rarely stick around for long as carriers inexorably find they must ditch premiums to unlock scale — via consumer-friendly ‘all you can eat’ price plans.
Still, in the short term, carriers look likely to experiment with 5G pricing and bundles — basically seeing what they can make early adopters pay. But it’s still far from clear that people will pay a premium for better connectivity alone. And that again necessitates caution. 
5G bundled with exclusive content might be one way carriers try to extract a premium from consumers. But without huge and/or compelling branded content inventory that risks being a too niche proposition too. And the more carriers split their 5G offers the more consumers might feel they don’t need to bother, and end up sticking with 4G for longer.
It’ll also clearly take time for a 5G ‘killer app’ to emerge in the consumer space. And such an app would likely need to still be able to fallback on 4G, again to ensure scale. So the 5G experience will really need to be compellingly different in order for the tech to sell itself.
On the handset side, 5G chipset hardware is also still in its first wave. At MWC this week Qualcomm announced a next-gen 5G modem, stepping up from last year’s Snapdragon 855 chipset — which it heavily touted as architected for 5G (though it doesn’t natively support 5G).
If you’re intending to buy and hold on to a 5G handset for a few years there’s thus a risk of early adopter burn at the chipset level — i.e. if you end up with a device with a suckier battery life vs later iterations of 5G hardware where more performance kinks have been ironed out.
Intel has warned its 5G modems won’t be in phones until next year — so, again, that suggests no 5G iPhones before 2020. And Apple is of course a great bellwether for mainstream consumer tech; the company only jumps in when it believes a technology is ready for prime time, rarely sooner. And if Cupertino feels 5G can wait, that’s going to be equally true for most consumers.
Zooming out, the specter of network security (and potential regulation) now looms very large indeed where 5G is concerned, thanks to East-West trade tensions injecting a strange new world of geopolitical uncertainty into an industry that’s never really had to grapple with this kind of business risk before.
Chinese kit maker Huawei’s rotating chairman, Guo Ping, used the opportunity of an MWC keynote to defend the company and its 5G solutions against U.S. claims its network tech could be repurposed by the Chinese state as a high tech conduit to spy on the West — literally telling delegates: “We don’t do bad things” and appealing to them to plainly to: “Please choose Huawei!”
Huawei rotating resident, Guo Ping, defends the security of its network kit on stage at MWC 2019
When established technology vendors are having to use a high profile industry conference to plead for trust it’s strange and uncertain times indeed.
In Europe it’s possible carriers’ 5G network kit choices could soon be regulated as a result of security concerns attached to Chinese suppliers. The European Commission suggested as much this week, saying in another MWC keynote that it’s preparing to step in try to prevent security concerns at the EU Member State level from fragmenting 5G rollouts across the bloc.
In an on stage Q&A Orange’s chairman and CEO, Stéphane Richard, couched the risk of destabilization of the 5G global supply chain as a “big concern”, adding: “It’s the first time we have such an important risk in our industry.”
Geopolitical security is thus another issue carriers are having to factor in as they make decisions about how quickly to make the leap to 5G. And holding off on upgrades, while regulators and other standards bodies try to figure out a trusted way forward, might seem the more sensible thing to do — potentially stalling 5G upgrades in the meanwhile.
Given all the uncertainties there’s certainly no reason for consumers to rush in.
Smartphone upgrade cycles have slowed globally for a reason. Mobile hardware is mature because it’s serving consumers very well. Handsets are both powerful and capable enough to last for years.
And while there’s no doubt 5G will change things radically in future, including for consumers — enabling many more devices to be connected and feeding back data, with the potential to deliver on the (much hyped but also still pretty nascent) ‘smart home’ concept — the early 5G sales pitch for consumers essentially boils down to more of the same.
“Over the next ten years 4G will phase out. The question is how fast that happens in the meantime and again I think that will happen slower than in early times because [with 5G] you don’t come into a vacuum, you don’t fill a big gap,” suggests Gartner’s Fabre. “4G’s great, it’s getting better, wi’fi’s getting better… The story of let’s build a big national network to do 5G at scale [for all] that’s just not happening.”
“I think we’ll start very, very simple,” he adds of the 5G consumer proposition. “Things like caching data or simply doing more broadband faster. So more of the same.
“It’ll be great though. But you’ll still be watching Netflix and maybe there’ll be a couple of apps that come up… Maybe some more interactive collaboration or what have you. But we know these things are being used today by enterprises and consumers and they’ll continue to be used.”
So — in sum — the 5G mantra for the sensible consumer is really ‘wait and see’.

5G phones are here but there’s no rush to upgrade

The Mobile Paradox

mobile-addiction

Editor’s note: Guest author Keith Teare is General Partner at his incubator Archimedes Labs and CEO of just.me. He was a co-founder of TechCrunch. Follow him on Twitter @kteare.

Google’s stock declined by over 4% yesterday. Many have put this down to the company’s decision to create a non-voting class of stock as part of a control-retention exercise as the founders sell shares. But more is going on here.

In the same week as Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion as part of its efforts to be more relevant on the growing mobile Platform, Google, for the second quarter in succession, suffered a decline in “Cost Per Click” rates that is in large part attributable to the shift in traffic from the desktop/laptop to the mobile platform.

wrote about this last quarter. I also posted on my personal blog in between quarters.

I believe what we are seeing here is the start of a secular trend that represents nothing less than the end of the web 2.0 era where we all consumed services through a browser on a computer. Replacing that era is a new, app-based, message-centric mobile Internet. In this new era the essential unit of advertising (a page based ad, whether text, display or anything else) is simply the wrong monetization vehicle. Something new has to emerge.

It is worth examining the earnings call in detail because these points were clearly articulated on the call by all Google executives.

Patrick Pichette, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Google, speaking on the company’s quarterly conference call this week, said the following:

“Aggregate cost-per-click growth was down 12% and down 6% quarter-over-quarter.”

The statement represented the only negative on the call which had generally reported a very strong financial quarter.

Pichette was compelled to explain:

“So given the recent trends in CPCs and clicks, allow me to spend a bit of time today addressing this. The most important thing for you to understand is that our business is healthy. We believe that shifts in CPC and paid clicks taken independently really do not reflect the fundamental health of our business.”

What? This was a huge quarter and the CFO is almost pleading with the listening analysts to believe that Google has a healthy business. A cynic would quickly draw the conclusion that there is smoke here, and so – most likely a fire.

So Pichette explained more:

“Now allow me some details on this. In general, we attribute these trends to a combination of really 5 core factors. Those include FX, and then there’s 3 mix effects. For example, the mobile versus tablet versus desktop shifts, emerging markets versus developed markets shifts and even the basics of google.com versus our network. And then finally, ads quality changes which is also a huge factor.”

“Many in the financial community have tried to isolate or often I hear pick one of these among these factors as the primary driver for CPC or click trends. Some even say it’s about — all about mobile. Others suggest that it indicates weakness in demand for Google advertising. Well, on the latter point, I want to be very clear that that’s not the case.”

On the latter point indeed. What about the former point? Let’s repeat it: “. Some even say it’s about — all about mobile.” 

Count me in the camp of the “some”. I don’t say this in any negative or gloating spirit. But isn’t it obvious? As Android, iPhone and other mobile platforms grow we are moving away from the page based Internet. The new Internet is app centric and often message-centric. The number of users engaged in this app-centric and message-centric Internet is both huge and their use is growing. People used Instagram for images, not Flickr or Picasa. They use Foursquare for checkins not Facebook. And they do so in large numbers and they do it a lot.

In this world, page-based ads, interstitials, pop-ups; pop-under; pop-over; and most of the other web era advertising units make absolutely no sense. And this is irrespective of whether they are text ads or display ads. Sure some will attract clicks, but for the most part they are ignored or worse still hated. And advertises will not see the ROI in being in the mobile world using those methods.

Being a web-era company, heavily invested in a web-centric content and application ecosystem is becoming a liability. Facebook is challenged by this shift – hence Instagram; Google is also challenged by it. Yahoo has effectively been killed by it.

Listening analysts on the call didn’t miss the opportunity to focus on this point. At about the 35 minute mark on the call Mark Mahaney from CitiGroup asked:

“And then just real quickly on the mobile CPC issue. Can you just comment again on over time, over what period of time you would expect mobile and desktop CPCs to merge or do you think that’s a realistic expectation? What would cause that to happen or not?”

Pichette answered:

“Think of it as so much upside for us because essentially mobile is exploding in query growth and the formats themselves are just adapting already a lot and from a relatively crude base to so much more in the future. So that you’re absolutely right that right now, they don’t monetize as well because we’re kind of in what search used to be in 2002, 2003, 2004. So as these formats kind of continue to get better and better, we’d expect much better performance on them.”

Larry Page, possibly perturbed by that answer, intervened:

“This is Larry. I’ll add something, Mark. I think the mobile CPCs — I mean, people always spend their most effort on the major — whatever the major source of traffic or revenue is, and those are growing really quickly, albeit currently, obviously, there’s more on desktop. … The fact that you spend most of your money locally, I think that over time that may actually reverse and the CPCs action may get better. But I think we’re very bullish about that. We’re making a lot of investments in that area, in things like Offers and so on and Wallet. And we’re very, very excited about the potential there, and also Click-to-Call and other things that we do.”

The final question on the call at about 58 minutes was asked by Anthony Di Clemente from Barclay’s:

Just one question for Nikesh or whomever wants to answer it. It seems like even though as you’re shifting to mobile, you have this presumably double-digit pricing step down for CPCs. But in the Display world, certainly, that pricing difference could be even more dramatic. In some cases, by half or 2/3. Prices getting cut on that shift to mobile. And so you guys at Google have the unique ability to compare and contrast the difference in price between like Search and Display and how the two are monetizing relative to desktop. And so any color on that comparison would be appreciated because I think there are folks out there that have a view that actually Search, core Search, monetizes better on that shift to mobile than Display does, and I would love to just understand that better.”

Nikesh Arora, Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer responded:

“Yes, I mean, I guess — let me try to just explain to it from the advertiser perspective. So what we’re striving towards is advertisers are interested in ROI. Advertisers actually are not interested in whether they’re on the mobile product, the Display product, the Search product on the Web or the Search product on mobile. So what we are fast converging towards is we’re basically sitting down and understanding ROI targets of our advertisers. And then we have immense amounts of inventory at our behest, whether it’s mobile inventory, on Display or Search or desktop inventory or even inventory to our network. And what we are trying to work towards is being able to dynamically allocate across these various products, what allows them to get the maximum ROI.  … In the long-term, we think mobile will monetize better. And we usually don’t see the difference happening on Display and Search as you alluded to. Larry, you want to add something?”

I will leave it to the reader to draw your own conclusions here. But one thing is for sure. Something big and dramatic is happening. Expect a lot more movement in the mobile space as the desktop giants get a better sense of the issues. And as for that Facebook acquisition of Instagram, it may not impact the real threat that mobile represents to Facebook – the threat of falling monetization due to the impracticality of delivering ads derived from the web era to a mobile audience.

[image via 3 Gazet]


The Mobile Paradox

GoldSpot Shows You Mobile Video Ads If You’re On Wi-Fi Via New Bandwidth-Aware Ad Tech

Bandwidth Based Ads Done 2

Exclusive: GoldSpot Media has just unveiled its new “bandwidth-based ads”, a licensable technology that lets advertisers deliver a single mobile ad unit that appears as a simple rotating banner to viewers on 3G or mobile data, but as an auto-playing partial screen overlay video to viewers on wi-fi. Debuted on a new Zyrtec pharmaceutical campaign, you can compare the formats for yourself by turning wi-fi on or off.

GoldSpot’s tech could drastically increase the number of video impression an advertiser gets per dollar. This translates into improved campaign effectiveness and ROI, while preventing a viewer’s limited mobile data plan from being devoured by ads. Bandwidth-based ads will accelerate the metamorphosis of commercials into content by allowing interactive rich-media or even games to be served as mobile ads.

Here’s how mobile video ads often work today.

Regardless of their bandwidth, viewers see a banner that they have to tap before they see the promo video. Few people tap, and the video is rarely seen. GoldSpot’s CEO Srini Dharmaji tells me that if the ad had a $5 CPM, and a budget of $100,000, an advertiser would get 20 million impressions. If the ad had a high click through rate of 0.1%, just 20,000 people would see the video at a cost of $5 per view to the advertisers. Basically advertisers are throwing their money away. Alternatively, advertisers serve an auto-play video to everyone, and those on slow connections get their data plan drained and usually navigate away before the video even finishes loading

Let’s run those numbers again with GoldSpot’s bandwidth video ad tech. Dharmaji says 60-65% of users consume content on wi-fi, and about 30-35% do so on 3G or mobile data. If the combined cost of GoldSpot’s platform and the ad inventory have a $20 CPM, on a $100,000 budget the advertiser would get 5 million impressions from wi-fi users alone.

Even if only 50% of viewers are detected to be on wi-fi and see the auto-play video in a partial screen overlay, the advertiser gets 2.5 million video impressions. That’s 4 cents per view instead of $5. Now do you see why this is a big deal?

Even if all those impressions aren’t full-length, full-screen views, the 2.5 million GoldSpot-powered ad views are going to have a much bigger impact than 20,000 dedicated views. Yes, some viewers could be annoyed by seeing more auto-play video ads, but at least they won’t have to pay for them. GoldSpot is now licensing the bandwidth-based technology to advertisers, agencies, and publishers. It works across ad networks, and provides consolidated performance reporting. It charges a CPM, and clients can use its drag-and-drop creation platform to format their ads.

Started in 2007, the Sunnyvale, CA GoldSpot Media has raised roughly $17 million between its seed, A, and B rounds, and now has more than 75 employees. It has over 50 individual and agency clients including the New York Times, Bloomberg, Chevy, and General Mills. It also provides opt-in device and geo-location ad optimization where viewers can select to provide data to see more relevant ads. Dharmaji calls GoldSpot a “hardcore technology company” with over 20 patents, but says those are for self-defense.

GoldSpot’s technology is a triple-win since in addition to making it money and getting advertisers a better ROI, it doesn’t suck up a user’s limited mobile data plan downloading videos if they’re not on wi-fi and don’t want to see them. Plus, since users on wi-fi are more likely to be relaxed rather than on the move, there’s a better chance that impressions lead to purchases or viewers internalizing an ad’s message.

As we shift to the post-PC era, delivering rich-media ads to tablets where they look great will become even more important. Dharmaji concludes “We give advertisers the power to build much more engaging ads. They have to think about how to increase ROI without pissing off the mobile consumer.”


GoldSpot Shows You Mobile Video Ads If You’re On Wi-Fi Via New Bandwidth-Aware Ad Tech