Jun 3, 2019

Axios Login

Situational awareness: Apple will kick off its Worldwide Developer Conference with what should be a news-filled keynote. I'll have live coverage starting at 10am PT on Axios.com.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,222 words/< 5 min. read.

1 big thing: The 5G hype machine

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

5G mania has swept the wireless industry, regulators and tech enthusiasts — but the hype is getting ahead of both demand and the nascent reality of the networks, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Why it matters: The promise of 5G — with mobile broadband speeds up to 100 times faster than current 4G networks — and the pressure to keep up with global competitors are impacting major merger reviews and city budgets. But unrealistic expectations for 5G could lead to big disappointments.

Between the lines: It's always hard to anticipate how and when new technologies will catch on. No one predicted Uber and Airbnb would spring from 4G networks and the smartphone, for example.

  • Yes, but: When 4G launched, the U.S. wireless market still had plenty of room to grow and revenue margins were relatively high. So the telecom industry's promotion of 4G service was more measured and less hyped.
  • Now the wireless market is mature and has little subscriber growth (around 1%), so telecom companies are searching for ways to wring new revenue from current subscribers.
  • That has driven the industry to push flashy marketing campaigns to sell consumers on the benefits of 5G.

Here's how the hype is playing out:

1. Unclear business case: The technology hasn't yet materialized on a large scale, and many business leaders aren't convinced there will be real use cases anytime soon.

2. Lack of consumer demand: According to recent HarrisX research, most business decision makers (72%) believe 5G will be worth paying more for, but consumers are split on its value.

  • Only 24% of wireless subscribers say they would switch to a new carrier for 5G, and only 19% say they'd switch to a new device to access 5G phones.

3. Enormous investment: Without clear paths to revenue, analysts worry about lackluster return on investment for big carriers who've pumped billions of dollars into network upgrades.

4. Spotty rollout: 5G is rolling out commercially, but the highest speeds of 5G come with the drawback that its signals don’t travel far. This means 5G is only coming to parts of a few cities for each carrier, in most cases.

5. Global race: Mobile carriers have gained leverage over policy decisions that bolster their 5G ambitions by invoking the specter of a Chinese victory in the wireless competition.

6. Merger review: 5G has even become a factor in the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. To convince regulators to approve the deal, T-Mobile has promised to cover 85% of rural Americans with its 5G network within 3 years, and 90% in 6 years.

The bottom line:

"The hype is so preposterously misaligned with economic reality that inevitably there’s going to be this disastrous crash in expectations and people are going to call it a failure."
"In fact, it’s not a failure other than inappropriate expectations. It will actually be better than 4G and it will be an impressive next step for the network."
— Craig Moffett, founding partner, MoffettNathanson Research

Go deeper: Kim has more here.

2. Tech regulators carve up antitrust turf

Two developments shifted the threat level in Washington for Big Tech over the weekend, Axios' David McCabe writes.

  1. The Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission have agreed to split up efforts to investigate charges of monopolistic practices by Google and Amazon. DOJ got Google and FTC got Amazon, per the Washington Post and Bloomberg.
  2. DOJ is preparing to launch an investigation into some of Google's practices, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: These moves set the table for the kind of long-running antitrust cases that can sap company resources, result in embarrassing legal discovery and depositions, and, in the most extreme scenarios, lead to corporate breakups.

Between the lines: It's not uncommon for the agencies to negotiate over who gets to vet which companies and markets, and the move might be a sign of real interest in pursuing the two firms.

  • The FTC had already signaled its intention to look at tech giants with a new task force. What's new is its claim over Amazon.

Yes, but: Claiming the jurisdiction to investigate a company or launching an investigation remains multiple steps away from filing an actual antitrust lawsuit.

  • DOJ is reportedly "gearing up" for the Google inquiry rather than already being in its throes, per WSJ.
  • The FTC's plans for Amazon aren't clear, the Washington Post writes.

The bottom line: There are already numerous investigations into Big Tech, and hundreds of lawmakers are grappling with how to regulate it around the world. A U.S. antitrust case against either Google or Amazon would nonetheless be game changing — if it materializes.

3. Google outage impact

Interior of a Google data center. Photo: Google

Problems with Google's servers led to an interruption in service for some Gmail and YouTube users on Sunday, as well as for businesses that rely on Google Cloud. Among those affected were Snapchat and Vimeo, per The Verge.

Why it matters: Google has been trying to win cloud business away from Amazon and Microsoft, touting its reliability as among the reasons to switch.

Details: The outage persisted for several hours, with Google saying the issue was finally resolved for all customers as of 4pm PT on Sunday.

  • "We will conduct an internal investigation of this issue and make appropriate improvements to our systems to help prevent or minimize future recurrence," Google said. "We will provide a detailed report of this incident once we have completed our internal investigation."
  • At that point, it will also detail what credits it will offer to affected business customers.
4. Interview with Andre Iguodala

Photo: Penguin Random House

I had a chance last week to talk to tech investor Andre Iguodala about his new book, "The Sixth Man."

ICYMI: That's also the same Iguodala who nailed a game-icing three-pointer with 5.9 seconds left last night to give the Warriors the win and even the NBA Finals at a game a piece.

The 256-page book largely deals with Iguodala's on-the-court and childhood experiences and offers a fascinating look at the intersection of class, race and basketball.

Between the lines: Iguodala isn't afraid to call them like he sees them, whether it is a coach who held him back or his belief that colleges are getting more value from star athletes than they are giving them.

  • "I'm not afraid to ruffle feathers at all," Iguodala told me.

Iguodala has become well known for his tech investing as well as his basketball skills. Iguodala, who recently joined the board of African e-commerce startup Jumia, is one of the leading athlete faces at the annual Players Technology Summit.

  • For those looking for investing tips, Iguodala stressed it won't be his last book.
  • As for his current thinking as a tech investor, Iguodala said he has been seeing his biggest gains from firms focused on business, rather than consumer efforts, pointing to Zoom and PagerDuty.
  • "That world’s been very interesting to me," he said, adding that 5G wireless technology will enable further advances in autonomy. "It’s really going to disrupt the workforce."

What's next: You can pick up Iguodala's book starting June 25. In the meantime, the Warriors face the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 on Wednesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Apple has hired 10-year Disney veteran Chiara Cipriani as a director in its video unit, per Bloomberg. Cipriani previously helped with the Disney+ streaming service.
  • Coinbase president and COO Asiff Hirji is leaving the company, with current VP Emilie Choi taking over as COO.


6. After you Login

One of the best parts of Computex are the really imaginative PC cases that get shown at the Taiwan trade show.