During a recent cross-country flight, I reflected on the mobile trends and my industry observations from the first quarter of 2019. All of the noise, from the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics show in January to the Mobile World Congress Barcelona in February and the latest and greatest product announcements from leading manufacturers in the world, can be summed up in a single digit and letter — 5G. More specifically, 5G for smartphones.

The Curve: Smartphone Technology

Where are we on the saturation curve relative to the power of this ever-evolving device in your pocket? In other words, how far from “good enough” are we in relation to smartphone technologies? Having been around the smartphone industry for most of the last 15 years of my career, I have consistently encountered this concern and doubt, from the manufacturers to prosumers, and often reinforced by industry analysts and technologists. These are real statements I have heard, from people deep in the mobility space throughout the years:

• “2G/EDGE is fast enough, we don’t see a need for 3G for our connected PDA.” …so wrong

• “Why would anyone need a GHz processor”…”let alone 8+ of them?” …wrong

• “We love shipping Bluetooth, millions of units, but no one actually uses it.” …oops

• “Once 3G comes, there is no longer a reason to have WIFI in a phone.” …wowsers

• “We tried touch screens; users didn’t like it.” “People want a physical keyboard, not a virtual one.” …incorrect

• “The megapixel camera wars are over.” …that was for a single camera, now we have 3+ sensors in each phone for image capture.

5G Network

You get the idea. Looking back, the statements above seem laughable because of how shortsighted they were.  Here we are today, and the questions I hear these days are:

• “5G is great for fixed wireless, but there’s no need for that bandwidth in a phone and the battery life will be terrible.”

There was a similar sentiment around WIMAX, and then LTE, the later proved to be great handset technologies. I know you probably roll your eyes like I do when you cannot get a LTE or WIFI connection and need to tolerate sitting on a 3G connection ­­— the same 3G connection that was viewed as “overkill” only a few years ago. 5G turns a new blank page for the bold and the capable ones to launch new products, unveil novel use cases, and drive innovative applications with the newfound capabilities of high speed and low latency. Though there are no declared enablers yet, through the hottest buzz words that are frequently referenced — from artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, to augmented/mixed/virtual/extended reality — we can get a glimpse of a near future where the smartphone will continue to be the hub of all things connected in the new 5G era.

• “Due to the fast speeds of 5G, we don’t really need much local storage.”

Five years ago, we were told that 2GB of DRAM and 32GB of storage were more than anyone would need. Last year, the top smartphone manufacturers launched phones with over 10GB of DRAM and 512GB of local storage and 1TB phones are on the horizon. On a personal level, I am sure you have had a similar experience as what I had last night. My 128GB phone told me I had to delete some files before I could download a new movie for my flight. Should I delete files without reviewing them first? Should I just remove them from the phone? What if I need the files later? Do I really need the movie? What if there is nothing to watch or no connection? Decisions, decisions.

If you wonder how we will ever be able to fill 2TB or 4TB of local storage on a phone, you only need to pay attention to all the advancements in mobile entertainment, increases in camera resolutions and number of cameras being added to both front and back, new consumer smartphone usage for AR/VR/XR/MR, and the growing size of mobile applications. When was the last time you took time to review and delete photos, videos, files or apps from your phone? Perhaps you can add artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to teach your phone to stay smart and clean. More storage, please.

• “No one will pay over $1,000 dollars for a phone.”

Smartphones are one of the most personal devices that people own. It is the item that we never leave the house without and is almost always with us. Most would view the monthly bill as a necessity, only ranking behind the most basic utilities — housing, food, water, and electricity. If the cost per minute of engagement were amortized, $1000 would look significantly cheaper than most items we buy. As smartphones continue to provide additional utility as the hub for a connected life in a connected world, it seems likely that users will be able to justify these increasing hardware costs.

Tomorrow, We’ll Ask How We Ever Survived Without 5G

These questions and estimations are also likely to be tested and proven wrong because the services and innovations that they ride upon are the glimmer in the eye of our next generation developers.  It wasn’t that long ago that we had to call a cab company to get a ride to the airport. Now, ridesharing companies have gone public with $24 billion valuations. As always, the technical evolution will be transformative and exciting, and we won’t know how we lived without it.

Where do you think we are on the curve? Leave a comment below or tell us on Twitter @WesternDigiEdge

Check out our keynote, “EDGE compute: 5 design considerations”, at the BIG 5G Event to learn more about how clearly defining storage can help 5G and future environments reach their full potential. To register for the event (and to find out if you qualify for free registration), visit https://www.westerndigital.com/company/newsroom/events/big-5g-event.

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Chris is senior vice president, devices product marketing and management. He drives strategy for mobile and connected market segments