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Who is really driving investment in 5G technology?

Is 5G driven by consumer markets or industries? And what about automation? How will these markets ramp up? Our research tells us that consumers expect 5G to automate many areas of everyday life, yet we still do not know how. However, categorizing some countries as consumerized and others as more industrialized could give us a clue. Read on to find out why.

5G technology consumer industry
Michael Björn 

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

Category, topic & hashtags

The year is drawing to a close. Our tenth and final trend in this year’s consumer trends report is 5G automates society. Based on data from over 72,000 smartphone users across 50 countries, the research found that people expect 5G to support automation in a variety of ways.

For example, 23 percent of respondents believe 5G will benefit self-driving cars, and in a follow-up survey of advanced urban internet users, self-driving cars were ranked second among future-oriented devices thought to become commonplace.


Read the top 10 consumer trends 2019.

But just saying “self-driving cars” is much simpler than making them a reality. To get there would require great change across many other aspects of society, including laws, streets signs, and lane systems. The question which interests me is: will consumers be the first to sit in the self-driving seat, or is it more likely that industry will drive the investment in this particular 5G technology?

More than 1 in 5 respondents also believe 5G will enable internet connected electricity, gas and water meters. That means replacing an incredible number of existing meters. Again, this is easier said than done.  

To answer these questions, we should think about how different countries are structured economically. Take the US, the UK, Germany or Japan. Do you think of them as industrialized countries? Think again: the official terminology is “developed nations,” since, technically speaking, they are post-industrial. But defining something by what it is not is never a good idea; so I suggest we call them consumerized countries instead. Not only do their service sectors provide more wealth than the industrial sectors, but more than half of their GDP (a staggering 68 percent in the US) comes from consumption, outweighing both exports and government spending.

In countries like these I predict automation will be consumer-driven; for the simple reason that most things are. Given that cellular networks are integral to consumerization today – with everything from entertainment to groceries to insurance being purchased via smartphones – it would be strange if this didn’t increase with 5G.


But there are other places in the world. Right now, I’m writing this in Sweden. Sweden is well-known for its welfare state and its higher than average government spending. But Sweden is also export-oriented and has a positive trade balance. However, only 43 percent of GDP is generated by consumption in Sweden. That is the lowest in Scandinavia and is only lower in a couple of other European countries. So, when 5G automates Swedish society, some of that will be driven by government investment in 5G technology, and some of it will be driven by export-oriented Swedish industries. Since they don’t have a large home market to fall back on, Swedish industries will need to remain on the cutting edge of productivity and digitalization in order to remain innovative and competitive.

But as I am sure you realize; this concept is heavily over-simplified. For example, we tend to divide markets into business-to-consumer (B2C) and business- to-business (B2B), whereas most markets are probably business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C). So, while I initially categorized Germany as a consumerized nation, it simultaneously has a more positive trade balance than Sweden, and as such will also be quite B2B oriented.

So, when 37 percent of the smartphone owners surveyed predicted 5G will better enable home alarms and 21 percent expected 5G to enable mobile use of AR/VR headsets, there will likely be a mix of both consumer and industry applications.

Still, looking at how GDP is generated in different countries might give you a surprisingly good idea of how things will play out.

There are many other future-oriented and highly relevant topics in this year’s 10 Hot Consumer Trends. Head over there and take a look!

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