While smartphones are all the rage in 5G, the market trends are aligning for a quiet revolution of 5G-enabled laptops (5GPCs) and other non-smartphone computer devices. The world’s first 5GPC, Lenovo’s Yoga 5G, was introduced at CES 2020, kick-starting the process. Although always-connected, always-on laptops (ACPCs) have been around for some time, their widespread adoption has been constrained mainly because of restrictive and expensive data pricing. The extremely high capacity and improved efficiency of 5G, which allows operators to offer attractive pricing combined with the remarkable improvement in the performance of ACPCs, has the potential to push the 5GPC market into high gear.
5G Offers The Best Network Technology For ACPCs
5G traction has been beyond anybody’s expectations. As of the end of 2019, 348 operators were investing in 5G and 61 operators had already commenced 5G services. The operators who have launched are steadily expanding their coverage. The introduction of dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) — which allows 5G to use the 4G spectrum, expected commercially in the second half of 2020 — will substantially improve coverage. Thanks to the diligent work of regulators around the world, 5G has over 10 times more spectrum than 4G in many cases. That includes all the bands: higher (e.g., millimeter wave), middle (e.g., 2.5 and 3.5 GHz) and lower (e.g., 600 MHz).
Although 5G’s super-high speeds get all the attention, the biggest advantage of 5G is its extreme capacity, thanks to all that spectrum. That means cellular operators have the opportunity, more than ever, to experiment with new pricing and data plans. We already see glimpses of that in the true unlimited data plans for smartphones and fixed wireless access (FWA) services and plans. I strongly believe that 5GPCs will be a worthy addition to the new horizons operators will explore with 5G.
For the operators pouring billions of dollars into 5G network build-out, the sooner and the more users they get on that network, the better. The abundant capacity of the 5G network allows operators to move laptop users into a new usage paradigm: from today’s “data sipping, only turning on the cellular connection when needed, always conscious of hitting the data limit” mindset to the “anywhere, anytime, worry-free” paradigm.
5G also allows true service bundling: a single contract and attractive pricing for smartphones, FWA, laptops and other connected devices. This, while reducing the cost for users, will increase the overall average revenue per user (ARPU) for operators. Bundled pricing brings service stickiness and builds long-term customer relationships. Operators could also work with 5GPC device OEMs to bundle the connectivity as part of the device cost, for at least the first months/year of 5G service. As a seasoned ACPC user, I know that once you experience the liberation of not looking for hot spots and constant worries of the safety of hot spots, hardly anybody will go back, as long the cost of that experience is reasonable.
5GPCs Will Be The Best ACPCs
ACPCs have been continuously improving their performance and are now ready to be productivity, enterprise and performance laptops. For example, the recently announced world’s first 5GPC by Lenovo offers high performance and 24-hour battery life. (Full disclosure: The laptop is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx, and Qualcomm is a client of mine.) With a 5GPC, you can work from virtually anywhere without worrying about being near a power outlet or a Wi-Fi hot spot. The data speeds with 5G should be far better than any regular hot spot would provide.
With today’s traditional laptops that have shorter battery life, even if you had cellular connectivity, the untethered experience is limited because you have to always think of charging options. The extremely long battery life of ACPCs makes them truly untethered. Not being tethered physically or wirelessly is an exhilarating experience. And it is logical to think people would be willing to spend a little bit more for this higher perceived value.
5GPCs will be particularly attractive for enterprises. There are many reasons for this, and the biggest one is security. One of the main security risks for enterprises is their employees connecting laptops to unknown, unsecured Wi-Fi hot spots. With 5GPCs, IT departments will be certain that their employees will always be connected to a secure known 5G network. The potential costs of lost data or security breaches would certainly outweigh any minimal increase in the cost of 5G cellular connectivity. Also, 5GPCs bring many other benefits to enterprises: Integrated GPS allows reliable asset tracking and security mechanisms such as geofencing; being always on, laptops will always be up to date with the latest security patches and updates. Of course, the increase in employee productivity by being reliably connected all the time with excellent speeds goes without saying.
5GPCs will bring much-needed excitement to the largely stagnant laptop market. If managed properly, the 5GPC trend has the potential to create a new full replacement cycle, which might last for years.
All the stars are aligning for 5GPC to be an attractive market for the industry. 5GPCs have the performance to make the best use of 5G and provide a differentiated experience. Both consumers and enterprises will benefit enormously from 5GPCs. Cellular operators can utilize 5G’s extreme capacity to offer services that make true anywhere, always-connected, fully untethered experiences possible. But it will only be a reality if they can offer attractive and innovative pricing and data plans. With major 5GPC device announcements trickling in and operators looking to expand their 5G offerings, it will be interesting to see how the story of 5GPCs plays out.