The opening keynote session at MWC Las Vegas was, as you might expect, brimming with optimism for the ongoing development of 5G in the US. Presentations from AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile all extolled the virtues of their respective networks, each claiming to be more innovative and customer-focussed than the last.

But nestled amongst all this unbridled positivity, was a rather refreshing sit-down chat between Recon Analytics’ founder Roger Entner and David Christopher, the chairman of the CTIA (also EVP & General Manager of AT&T Business Development and Alliances), acknowledging some of the challenges 5G development still faces as it comes of age.

There is no denying that 5G rollout has taken place more rapidly than previous generations of mobile technology ¬¬– 50% faster than 4G, according to Christopher. But the pace of this rollout masks a technology that is still in its relative infancy and has significant speed bumps before its true potential can be realised.

Augmented reality and the problem of latency
Augmented reality (AR) and extended reality (XR) applications have long been vaunted as some of the most exciting prospects for the 5G era, with the potential to impact everything from healthcare to heavy industries.

Currently, however, functional AR applications are few and far between, both in the consumer and enterprise space, due in no small part to the problem of latency.

“We’ve solved the speed problem,” Christopher explained. “Now we need to get the latency below that of the human body, around 0.25ms, or users can experience motion sickness.”

For now, this sort of ultra-low latency is generally out of reach for most 5G connections in the US; earlier this year, Ookla measured both T-Mobile and Verizon’s 5G latency to be 31ms, while AT&T’s 34ms.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time because this is really hard and we haven’t done it before. In the past we’ve built on speed and reliability, but this focus on latency is a new dimension,” said Entner.

Christopher noted that he hopes to see technical advances take latency below the threshold next year.

“This is what the industry is waiting for,” he said. “Once we’ve solved the latency problem, AR will revolutionise how we do training and maintenance.”

Searching for smart city trailblazers
It is broadly accepted that 5G will be a key role in enabling the IoT on a massive scale and will play a key role in the creation of the smart cities of the future. These theoretical cities will be saturated with intelligent sensors, generating a wealth of data about everything from traffic congestion to air quality.

But we are now a handful of years into the 5G era in the US and smart cities at scale have yet to materialise. Private network deployments have begun to change the connectivity landscape for individual locations, like sports stadiums and university campuses, but there are few major success stories emerging on a city-wide scale.

The challenge, according to Christopher, revolves around convincing local authorities to take the plunge and invest.

“For adoption at scale, the industry will need to convince local authorities that they will quickly be saving money,” said Christopher. “We’re waiting for the first players to jump in – then many will follow suit.”

It is surely no coincidence that, following the keynote later that same day, NTT announced that it would be deploying the largest private network in the US for the city of Las Vegas. Making use of CBRS, the deployment’s initial goals are tied to improving education, surveillance, and healthcare, as well as rolling out NTT’s Smart Solutions suite of IoT solutions.

Perhaps Last Vegas will be the smart city trailblazer the industry is waiting for?

Calling for a ‘cogent spectrum roadmap’ for the US
Christopher’s final point of contention was focussed on the operators’ need for additional spectrum to truly maximise the value of 5G – and at a reasonable price.

“The coffers are empty,” he said. “We need a cogent spectrum roadmap here in the US.”

He also emphasised the importance of licences spectrum, noting that the “prime real estate” ¬of the shared CBRS had yet to produce a lot of success stories.

“Sharing is hard,” he said. “And it cannot take the place of licenced spectrum.”

The hunt for the ‘killer app’
For all of the operators positive rhetoric surrounding their 5G successes, it is clear that there are still major challenges for the next steps in 5G’s development. Nonetheless, the pace of the 5G rollout in thee US remains impressive, creating the perfect stage on which to hunt for the elusive ‘killer app’ for 5G.

“We’re preparing the field for innovators to sew their seeds,” said Entner. “People are asking ‘are we there yet?’ but we’re just getting started on this journey.”

The Total Telecom team have been in Las Vegas talking to people about the forthcoming Connected America event. If you didn’t see them there and want to find out more visit

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