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The iPhone now has 5G. Here's why you still aren't excited

CNET Now What maps the long and complex road to 5G with Boston Consulting Group.

Apple has entered the 5G business and, in the eyes of many, that could be the match that lights a 5G fire. But a quick scan of CNET headlines suggests that even Apple's pixie dust isn't yet enough to get 5G into orbit. Now what?

Communicating what 5G does and when it will do it is a huge perception problem. AT&T began rolling out something called 5GE in 2018, while the first major layer of 5G began to roll out at the end of 2019. Full implementation of 5G remains a year or two away, when low latency, high connection density, ultra reliability, network slicing and other features arrive. But half of iPhone owners thought they already had a 5G phone -- before Apple even announced one.


5G, touted Tuesday on the screen of Apple's Steve Jobs Theater, is the biggest new feature in the iPhone 12 lineup.


"There has been a marketing race," says Michael Breitenstein, partner and associate director at Boston Consulting Group. He adds that "a real speed gain comes from using high frequency spectrum" that is still in the process of being built out in most areas. 

Breitenstein's main worry about some of the earliest 5G deployments? "That takes time to roll out and the equipment is very costly. You have the (5G) logo, but you don't (really) feel the difference." That bears out in CNET's field tests, where editors have found issues with sustained network performance as well as major differences between markets and handsets

5G small cell

5G small cells need to proliferate in far great numbers than current 4G network gear to deliver the full promised benefits of 5G.

Jon Skillings/CNET

In a post arguing that "5G will take a different kind of launch", a Boston Consulting Group team considers the complexity of 5G's many available attributes. The team concludes, "the usual approach to launching a network -- first roll out the technology, then design the offers -- won't cut it". Breitenstein elaborates that this is because not every service needs all parts of 5G in every location. 

"When (will) each part of it (be) designed, released and standardized, and then what to do with it?" Breitenstein asks. With 4G "telcos basically planned the rollout and when it was done other guys thought about what they could do with it and how they could sell it," he says. "Now you have to bring people in to understand the technology and think what to do with it before it's actually here. That's a different approach than before."

BCG's Michael Breitenstein shared other nuanced insights into the complexities of leveraging 5G, with CNET's Brian Cooley. You can hear them all in the video above.


Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal."  There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all.