2021 5G and Wireless Predictions Affected by COVID

Experts weigh in on the direction of 5G and wireless in 2021 and the impact of COVID-19.

John Blyler

January 17, 2021

7 Min Read
Adobe Stock

The advent of 5G is changing the way we will communicate in 2021 and beyond. It is impacting the use of mobile devices, IoT, and sensor technologies in critical industries including communication, automotive, industrial, energy, consumer electronics, wearables, and smart cities.

To gain a broader perspective on the benefits and challenges with the rapidly emerging world of 5G and wireless spaces, Design News reached out to a range of experts in the telecom and electronic hardware-software industries to get their inputs on trends for 2021 and later. What follows is a portion of their insights.

Walden (Wally) C. Rhines, Ph.D. EE, CEO Emeritus of Mentor, a Siemens business and President and CEO, Cornami: Despite disruptions of Huawei export restrictions and worldwide 4G unit volume decline, semiconductor demand for cell phones will remain strong due to the higher semiconductor content in 5G phones, especially in RF communications. In 2021, 5G infrastructure roll-out will occur in non-China markets. Completion of China’s 5G infrastructure build-out will be followed by a strong 5G phone demand.

Chris Rowen, Ph.D. EE, VP of Engineering, Voice Technology, Cisco: The rollout of 5G will create the potential for near-the-edge low-latency compute, but it will get into the mainstream relatively slowly, in part because the natural providers – the network operators – have an only loose connection to the applications that drive edge and cloud application innovations.

Related:5G Doesn’t Cause COVID-19! Here's Everything You Need to Debunk the Myth

5G to 6G comparisons.

Rich Fry, TDK Corporation of America: In 2021, we’ll continue to see governments, technology, and research institutions, and ICT companies looking even beyond 5G, meeting even future needs down the road as we look toward 6G (while simultaneously implementing and deploying 5G in the real world). The major MegaTrends advancing toward 6G include connected machines, the use of AI for wireless communication, more frequency and spectrum sharing, and openness of mobile communication. 
As most are aware now, 5G devices will require additional hardware and will initially have higher costs than comparable 4G devices, but these costs will eventually come down in the coming years. End-to-end security will remain a key priority for all devices including communication networks, and mobile and IoT Devices, in order to protect critical communication paths that are opened up by creating these new connected 5G networks that could expose sensitive information. 
We will continue to see a need for materials, components, and technologies for sensors, RF filtering, power efficiencies, and EMC prevention to be optimized for higher frequencies, higher power, and higher temperatures.  

Related:IoT the Extraterrestrial Holds Promise for 5G and More

Omdia “Connecting the Dots” – Clint Wheelock and Mark Watson: The tech world of 2021 will be marked by the acceleration of key shifts in business models and investment in the aftermath of COVID-19. One major driver in these shifts will be the roll-out of 5G technologies:

  • One of those will be in the area of access. As 5G reaches mass market readiness, look for continued growth in broadband access, and focus on critical network infrastructure.

  • 5G reaches mass market readiness in 2021, with 0.5bn global subscribers

  • Open virtualized RAN will take significant steps towards greater commercialization in 2021

  • COVID-19 and geopolitical situations will continue to propel the broadband access equipment market

  • Service provider investment in AI will finally catch up with the hype, driven by a rapidly growing number of automation and operational efficiency initiatives

  • Amid COVID-19, telcos will reset consumer 5G expectations, but how to monetize 5G for consumers will continue to be the biggest challenge for operators in 2021. As of end-2Q20, 77 percent of 5G operators did not bundle 5G-rich apps. Conversely, 23 percent or 17 of the 73 5G telcos tracked did have a differentiated pricing model and bundled at least one 5G-rich service in 2Q20. This compares to just seven “differentiate” pricing models in 2Q19

Of those that didn’t bundle, 33 percent simply offered data tiers, with or without non-5G ready content, such as traditional OTT services (e.g., Spotify). A further 22 percent did not launch any new plans for 5G – a “do nothing” strategy – opening up only existing plans to next-generation users. We are still waiting for operators in numerous developed countries to even roll out their first 5G-rich app. 

The COVID-19 pandemic’s resulting economic and job uncertainty is not going away any time soon. However, bundling a 5G-rich app – e.g., 3D AR shopping/e-books, or VR cloud gaming – alongside more expensive 5G plans, will make consumer upselling easier for telcos. In turn, this can lead to mobile ARPU growth/stability, lower churn, and incremental revenue as consumers buy more expensive 5G plans and a 5G handset.

Finally, 2021 will begin the era of software-defined automation. In 2020 the IoT topics in focus were 5G and edge computing. Going forward, expect to see the idea of software-defined automation begin to be added in 2021.

Concerning wireless technology in general, facial recognition and frictionless fingerprint readers will fuel the growth of biometric technologies in access control systems.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly caused a lasting change to the industry, but may yet accelerate technology adoption in 2021; from rising early adoption of smart building applications (e.g. for sanitation), wireless connectivity for retrofit projects, and new frictionless hardware.

Frictionless biometric readers can scan and process biometric data without requiring the user to initiate physical contact with the device. Nearly every facial recognition reader, most iris recognition readers, and a newly emerging class of frictionless fingerprint readers installed in access control systems today are defined as frictionless biometric modalities. 

Predictions of the second wave of 5G deployments for service providers.

The long-awaited roll-out of 5G technology finally gained momentum in 2020 with the release of several 5G enabled smartphones. But wireless and RF technologies, in general, continued to play a greater role in both the commercial and industrial IoT, COVID-19 related medical applications, space and satellite systems, and more. Design News captured these trends as they happened and have collected a few of those stories in one place for your perusal.  

  1. Inside the (Now) Lost Chamber at Arecibo - A decade-old video hints at what’s been lost with the collapse of the RF space transceiver platform at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

  2. Can Wearable Electronics be Fashionable? - Like art, the answer seems to lie in the eye of the beholder. But the wearable fashion trend is a real, varied, and visceral pleasure.

  3. How to Build Better Sidewalk Connectivity - TI is working to improve near the sidewalk edge connectivity for household wireless devices.

  4. Radio Telescopes Are Hollywood’s Biggest Stars - It’s amazing how many iconic and forgotten radio telescopes pop-up in movies, TV shows, and documentaries.

  5. Wireless Device Eyed for more Sustainable Solar Production - The cell can turn carbon dioxide, solar, and water into a storable energy source.

  6. Developers Digest Smart Pill Trends - Wireless, ingestible smart pills have been talked about for years. Are they finally a reality?

  7. Then and Now: Incredible Changes in Wearable Technology - Seeing is believing just how much wearable technology has changed over the last 20 years.


5G will affect all aspects of our lives for years to come.

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

About the Author(s)

John Blyler

John Blyler is a former Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an engineer and editor within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to RF design, system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier. John currently serves as a standard’s editor for Accellera-IEEE. He has been an affiliate professor at Portland State Univ and a lecturer at UC-Irvine.

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