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Really? We've Barely Been Able to get 4G Working

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July 12, 2019
Connectivity Trends
Jeremy Rock - Jrock@Rockitgroup.com

There has been a great deal of hype about 5G recently, especially with the recent deployment of the initial 5G network in Chicago by Verizon and the opening of the first 5G hotel, the Intercontinental Shenzhen in China. 

Many in the industry are trying to understand the impact of 5G on their hotels and what they need to be doing now to prepare for the deployment of this new technology. More importantly, there are questions about the implications of 5G and how this can best be targeted to create efficiencies, streamline operations and improve the guest experience.
In a recent article from the Global Times, Will Townsend, senior analyst at US-based Moor Insights and Strategy, targeted hospitality as one of the key industries that would be able to take advantage of the initial deployment of 5G applications. Townsend believes the initial area of focus would include, “Transformative services such as integrating a hotel loyalty program to identify a guest upon arrival, issue electronic room keys to a smart phone,” as well as self-wayfinding and proximity messaging with rich video content to promote site amenities for incremental revenue generation
From a guest perspective, most of the initial focus centers around the use of personal cellphones. It’s important to ascertain how far along manufacturers are with releases of 5G phones and whether they are ready for prime time. While manufacturers such as Samsung, Google, LG, Nokia, HTC and Lenovo are targeting the releases of 1st generation 5G phones this year, Apple has indicated it is in no rush to launch until approximately 2025. The company is looking to perfect its product rather than try to be on the forefront of this emerging technology. This could have an impact on how quickly the technology is adopted by the masses and will likely affect the speed with which applications are deployed within the industry. 
However, one provider appears to be taking the lead on the rollout of 5G devices. Chinese manufacturer Huawei currently has two 5G phones being released this year – one of which is a folding option with a 6.6-inch folded screen, 8 inches when open. While the company will be making these phones available on the worldwide market, the phones are unlikely to be made available in the US for security concerns. The government is placing a ban on the sale of devices on US military bases for this reason, and they are limiting investments in the US carrier networks. Other countries are also considering a ban on Huawei devices and equipment over security concerns.
Looking at 5G from a practical aspect, key features of the technology have potential to off er benefits to hotels. 
• Online content streaming and live content such as sporting events will come to life. 
• Ability to download high definition/4K movies in seconds. 
• Improved 3D content to support virtual reality and augmented reality games and experiences due to the decrease in latency. 
• Improved room automation features and voice-activated controls. 
The way hotels will interact with guests could be improved by taking advantage of some of the key technology offerings that include: 
• Better quality video calls that reduce latency and improve the quality of the voice and video images.
• Ability to share higher quality videos and photos in real time. 
• Improved self-check-in even in higher-end establishments where this concept has not even been considered. Some hotels are already using 5G welcome robots.
5G technology may allow hotels to change the way guests interact with a destination or influence their selection of location and activities. Potential offerings include: 
• Virtual reality marketing opportunities that provide hotel room previews without making a reservation or being immersed into the hotel or resort environment (restaurants, pool/gym) or nearby attractions. 
• Augmented reality offerings that allow guests to explore the hotel or nearby city attractions. 
• Explore hotels in 3D (or even eventually holograms). 
It is anticipated that the use of 5G will advance hotel operations by: 
• Improving ways to communicate, train and manage staff and associates. 
• Streamlining employee service and language skills to best align them with the hotel’s and guest’s needs. 
• Using the IoT to take on a more real-time guest service coordination role that relies on guest-facing technology to automate service related requests or needs and improve on guest service. 
• Using intelligent robots to provide guest information and service delivery.
While there are certainly many positive features and applications that are being targeted with 5G, there are a number of concerns associated with its deployment. 
The millimeter wave (mmWave) technology that 5G uses does not provide for the distribution of signal over wide areas. mmWave refers to a specific part of the radio frequency spectrum between 24GHz and 100GHz, which has a very short wavelength and requires a larger concentration of wireless nodes to distribute its signal. The signal doesn't do well with obstacles such as buildings and foliage. 5G needs to target signals in a more directional manner and bounce signals around obstacles where required. Cellular companies will need to install many more antennas on existing towers, as well as deploy hundreds of thousands of new towers to distribute the signal. This will require a significant investment on the carriers' part, and the initial service may be available only in larger cities as it could take years to successfully build out the necessary infrastructure to provide service to smaller markets.
In April 2019, Verizon went live with its initial 5G network deployment in Chicago and the initial reviews were met with mixed results. While some users obtained speed tests of over 500 MBps, they were unable to sustain the 5G connections and download apps or content in a consistent manner. It was revealed that the access provided a large drain on mobile device batteries which also caused these devices to default back to 4G LTE. This could have an impact on the effectiveness of the 1st generation of mobile phone devices that are being released, which would compromise the number of early adopters.
Given the challenges with signal distribution using mmWave and the fact that we are dealing with the 1st generation of 5G network equipment, it is difficult to identify how hotels can best provision for 5G other than to target the installation of in-building cellular DAS systems, which can prove to be an expensive undertaking – especially for existing hotels. Initial 5G network requirements indicate that hotels will likely need to place nodes in each hotel guestroom with direct line of site to accommodate the signal coverage requirements. Additional coverage requirements would need to address the public space and back of house needs to ensure 100 percent coverage throughout buildings.
If 5G service is only available in certain markets, keeping applications and product offerings consistent across multiple locations could prove to be challenging.
Most hospitality CIOs and technology innovators are keenly monitoring the developments of 5G, but as with the announcement of 4G several years ago, most anticipate that it will take some time for the technology to mature. While there are some early adopters of the new capabilities, the industry is in a wait-and-see mode. There is a high cost of initial deployment and the associated ROI on the potential investment to overcome. The 1st generation of technology takes time to work out the “kinks” and can prove problematic to deploy and support, not to mention the impact on operations and the guest when the applications don't work. Then there is a lack of content and proven applications to take advantage of the newer speeds and technology offering. These take time to be developed and integrated with other systems.
Other challenges with deploying the technology and the invasive requirements for deploying the networks include the lack of market penetration of available (and affordable) 5G phones and devices for guests. The number of guests that will initially have access to 5G devices will be limited and will likely not justify retrofitting hotels to accommodate the new technology for the first few years.
The hospitality industry tends to look at the lessons learned from past major technology releases when gaining perspective for addressing new deployments. When 4G was released there were some who thought it would replace the need for Wi-Fi networks within hotels and that everything would reside on these new cellular networks. Fast forward 10 years and we are still struggling to deploy 4G in certain markets and many hotels have turned to in-building Wi-Fi to address cellular coverage issues.
While the adoption of 5G is likely to be more rapid than that of 4G, we are reminded that new technology needs time to mature before it is stable and cost-effective enough to deploy in an industry that demands proven performance from the start. As such, many in the hotel industry are likely to adopt a wait-and-see approach before committing large investments toward upgrading infrastructures and technology platforms to accommodate the new world of 5G.
cellphone manufacturers & 5G 
With cellphones playing a key role in the consumer demand for 5G, the following represents a summary where the leading manufacturers are currently with 5G-enabled devices. 
  • Apple recently came to an agreement on a multi-year 5G chip deal, however Apple isn't an early adopter of new technologies and likely won't offer a 5G phone right away. Reports indicate that Apple may bring something to market around 2025. 
  • Verizon has now begun offering the Galaxy S10 5G and it is scheduled to become available through AT&T and T-Mobile in the near future. Samsung’s new Galaxy fold will also offer a variant with 5G, but the phone’s launch was delayed due to reported screen issues. The issues have reportedly been resolved and AT&T plans to begin offering these phones later this year. 
  • Google has not offered any details on a 5G offering of its Pixel phone. However, the Pixel 4 is scheduled to debut in October 2019 and this new version could offer 5G. 
  • LG announced that the LG V50 ThinQ 5G will be available to Sprint users at the end of May 2019 and available to the other US carriers later in the year. 
  • HTC currently doesn't have a 5G phone offering but will be releasing its 5G hotspot at the end of May with Sprint. The hotspot is equipped with a 5-inch screen and will allow for up to 20 simultaneous connections. It will also reportedly allow for users to make video calls and check email. 
  • Nokia currently doesn't offer a 5G phone, but CEO Florian Seiche hinted earlier this year that the company may have a new 5G offering in 2020. 
  • Lenovo began offering a Motorola Moto Z3 phone last August with the ability to connect to 5G with a modular accessory that attaches to the back of the phone via magnetic pins. The phone reportedly didn't perform well during initial tests when 5G went live with Verizon in Chicago this past April. The company is reportedly working on a new phone that wouldn't require a modular attachment, with no current timeline for the new phone’s release. 
  • Huawei is currently ready to offer two 5G phones - the Mate X 5G (which offers a foldable display) and the Mate 20 X 5G. The Mate X is scheduled to launch mid-2019 and the Mate 20 X in June 2019 with some of the international carriers such as EE, Vodafone, Three and O2. 
  • OnePlus is planning to offer a 5G variant of its OnePlus 7 Pro in 2019. However, the manufacturer didn't offer a specific date. It is reported that the phone will be offered via T-Mobile in the US, but unlocked versions could also work with AT&T and Verizon.
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