Can mobile 5G replace home broadband?
As commercial mobile 5G services reach more cities, the critical question was asked by Americans citizens: do I really need to pay for a home broadband connection in addition to my phone service? More and more people are answering this question by saying "no". According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of American adults who own a smart phone but don't pay for a home broadband Internet connection has been slowly rising over the past few years. ￼
Other relevant research firms have also seen an increase. For example, analysts at New Street Research found in a report last year that about 5 percent of internet-connected homes are now wireless only, based on data and the company's surveys. Analysts say the overall share of wirelessly connected households has not grown much in the past few years, but has increased significantly in 2016-17. The company attributed the growth to the launch of t-mobile's video streaming service and later unlimited wireless data plans by most U.S. wireless carriers. ￼
Perhaps the latest data on the subject comes from a Cowen Wall Street analyst survey of 1,100 respondents. Their survey, conducted in the second quarter of this year, found that about 12% of Sprint, t-mobile, Verizon and AT&T customers don't pay for home wire-line broadband Internet, down slightly from 13% in the company's first quarter survey. ￼
So will 5G phones let more Americans away from wired home Internet service? Some analysts think so. "We estimate that about 5 percent of wireless subscribers are now fully dependent on mobile broadband," Instinct analysts at nomura said in a recent report. In addition, SNL Kagan predicts that proportion will rise to 13 per cent by 2023." Fixed and mobile 5G services will increasingly appeal to "price-sensitive broadband customers", analysts said.
There are plenty of signs, however, that 5G will not trigger a mass migration from wired Internet to wireless, at least not yet.
The first thing to be clear is how much data is actually used by home Internet customers, and see if 5G can be used as an alternative. Comcast said in April that its residential Internet users now consume 200 gigabytes a month, a median, up 34 percent from a year earlier. Charter says its residential Internet users use almost the same amount of data (median) as Comcast.
For those watching YouTube, Netflix or any other video service on the Internet, the reasons for the increase in home Internet traffic are obvious, especially through big-screen televisions -- services that consume a lot of data. In fact, according to cisco, 82 percent of the world's Internet traffic will be video by 2022. The company said total global Internet traffic will triple over the next five years.
Based on these projections, analysts at New Street Research predict that by 2023, the average American household will consume more than 800 gigabytes of data monthly. That's a lot of data, and for now, 5G just can't keep up, mainly because carriers don't want that happen.
Verizon, for example, is lighting up 5G in major cities. The carrier's service supports speeds of about 400Mbit/s, but Verizon limited its first 5G hot spot to 50 gigabytes per month. After the 50GB cap, customer speeds are reduced to 3Mbit/s. This is important because hotspot devices like Verizon's new Inseego 5G MiFi M1000 may be used by customers as an alternative to home Internet connections -- but Verizon clearly doesn't want them to.
Verizon is not alone. Sprint is also limiting its 5G hotspots to 50GB.
The reason is simple. Verizon wants to make sure customers pay for mobile and home Internet respectively. After all, Verizon's 5G home service USES fixed 5G technology to offer unlimited Internet service to customers' homes and offices at speeds of 300Mbit/s -- but Verizon's mobile customers pay an extra $50 a month for the service.
It's worth that Verizon's network engineers have made it clear that Verizon's mobile 5G service and its 5G home service use almost the same equipment, with the only real difference is price.
Seeing all this , analysts at New Street see a bleak outlook for the possibility of mobile 5G replacing the wired home Internet connection. The company forecasts that the growth rate of wireless homes will slowly down from 9 per cent 2018 to 4 per cent 2023.