5G: The need to know what consumers want

There isn’t a day that goes by when I do not hear about 5G. However, most of these discussions and debates around 5G have been focused on industrial use cases and one element which is missing from these discussions is the “consumers”. The web is full of opinions, predictions and speculation that consumers just aren’t interested in 5G and there isn’t anything attractive about the 5G promise, or that consumers are tapped out completely and will not pay for it.


In July 2017, Ericsson ConsumerLab embarked on the task to run the biggest 5G consumer expectation study to date to dispel some of these myths. We spoke to 14,000 consumers in 14 countries: Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, the US, the UK, and South Korea, covering the opinion of 800 million consumers globally. The study did not look at 5G in isolation as most surveys out there would, but rather what needs to change now to offer a good foundation for a shift towards a 5G future. The outcome: Six calls to action from consumers that operators must act on to gain consumer trust ahead of 5G.

Expectations for a 5G consumer future

These six calls to action uncover unmet needs that consumers are craving for. From offering an effortless online buying experience to keeping networks real, each call to action provides operators actionable intelligence on what to fix ahead of 5G. Considering the future, consumers are expecting operators to give more with 5G. The discussions around 5G are creating huge expectations among consumers, and despite the technology still being a few years away, one third of consumers already expect the technology to deliver on aspects beyond just speed, coverage and low prices. It is rather interesting to see and bust the myth that consumers are looking for cheaper data plans from 5G, as only on one in ten claim this as their top expectation from 5G.

Contrary to the belief that consumers are not interested in 5G, our survey reveals that globally 76 percent of smartphone users are interested in services enriched by 5G, and 44 percent among them are even willing to pay. Most consumers expect 5G services to go mainstream within 3 to 4 years of 5G’s launch. However, this varies: in the US, consumers predict this will happen much faster – within 2 years of 5G’s launch – while Finnish consumers think otherwise. But what about the use cases?

Consumers predict

The study tested 13 different use cases with consumers evaluating not what they will do with 5G but rather what will happen with 5G going forward. Consumers predict that the first phase of 5G will be all about meeting their demands for extreme downloads and speeds. The CES 2018 show displayed futuristic robots enabled by 5G from those that play Scrabble to ones that do daily chores, however consumers think these are well in distant future and will only go mainstream 5 to 6 years after the launch of 5G.

So then, how will consumers eventually pay for these 5G services? One of the most thought-provoking insights from the study that could make operators rethink their current business model is around how consumers envision an end to paying for each gigabyte consumed in the 5G future. According to some estimates, a connected car could use 4,000GB of data each day. In such a scenario, consumers do not wish to think about rationing mobile data due to data caps as they do today. Rather, consumers are for paying a single fee for each 5G service based on the value of the service for them. For example, I would any day pay more for a 5G enabled security and surveillance alarm system at home than for a VR cinema service from my operator.

Findings from this study are challenging operators to deliver on the calls to action to secure consumer commitment towards 5G. The future of 5G now depends on whether we are willing to hear what consumers want and for operators to act on these calls to action. The future of 5G is as much dependent on the consumers as it is on businesses.

Read more about the consumer vision of 5G in Ericsson ConsumerLab’s latest report.

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