Many countries have recently deployed or are just now starting their roll-outs of 5G cellular technology. 5G promises higher throughput rates (up to 10 Gbps), enabling us to download and consume internet services faster than ever. Because of the increased bandwidth, the new 5G networks will not just serve our cellphones, as 2G, 3G, and 4G cellular networks do, but will also be the connection we use for internet service to laptops and desktop computers within the home. 5G will also provide the speed and mobility boost necessary for many new Internet of Things (IoT) applications, many of which will be deployed in the home as well.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who bring internet into our homes via telephone lines and cable, might be correct in regarding 5G as potential stiff competition in the years ahead. Let’s take a look at how 5G might evolve in our connected homes and what might change as a result.

5G Expansion

There isn’t much deployment of 5G yet, so there isn’t a lot to consider from the perspective of the connected home today. According to the Enterprisers Project, in 2019, there were only 10 million people using 5G services worldwide (out of 3.5 billion mobile internet users). Apple is only now getting ready to release 5G iPhones. Android versions are still relatively expensive. 5G isn’t on our radar screens just yet.

However, IDC forecasts that the number of 5G connections will surpass 1 billion in only three more years. That constitutes an astounding 217% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) during the five-year period from 2019 through 2023, the years under IDC’s examination. We note six major factors that will be responsible for the dazzling rise in people using 5G:

  • Expanded availability of 5G networks
  • Decreased prices for smartphones and other 5G-aware devices
  • Increased demand for data (creation and consumption)
  • A jump in the number of connected “things” supported by the proliferation of IoT
  • Speed of data download and access
  • Real-time operation of apps complemented by the mobility that 5G offers

Evolution of the Connected Home in the World of 5G

Today, most of us connect to the internet via a home router that provides WiFi wireless connectivity throughout our homes. Where coverage is a problem, we add extenders or mesh networks to make sure our growing population of connected devices receives consistently good WiFi signal. The home router connects to the internet via our ISP’s landline telephone or cable system.

Leading 5G players like Rakuten, in conjunction with leading router suppliers, are developing and deploying 5G/WiFi dual-technology routers for home use. These routers continue to make use of WiFi as the in-house, wireless communication medium, but instead of connecting to the internet via telephone wire or cable, they use the high-speed 5G cellular network for that purpose. Home users can deploy these “combo” routers without having to replace their current in-home connected devices since the WiFi part remains the same. What changes are the last mile and the backhaul that now move from the telephone or cable network to the cellular network. In effect, these new combo routers threaten to cut telephone network-based and cable network-based ISPs out of the picture altogether. 

Thus, we can look forward to a great deal of competition between legacy and new ISPs entering the market via their 5G networks. We foresee a slow-but-steady build-up of competitive forces post-2021. 

An additional evolutionary step—likely beyond 2022, in our opinion—could occur if connected-device developers decide to make their devices 5G-aware. These devices would be able to connect to the 5G mobile network from the home the same way our smartphones connect to the mobile network (from the home or anywhere else that coverage is provided). The wind under the wings of the flight from in-home WiFi to 5G comes from the mobility that 5G provides. While WiFi-bound, in-home devices cannot move very far from the home router without losing coverage, direct-connected 5G devices can offer complete mobility (wherever there is 5G signal in the air). We enjoy this level of mobility with our smartphones and there are many other applications that will benefit from it as well. It is no wonder that Gartner expects connected cars—what’s more mobile than a car?—to become the biggest opportunity for 5G IoT in the long term, but the effects on the connected home will also be significant.

By 2023, we might see a major move toward the success of 5G-aware home devices and applications.