5G on a laptop: What is it good for?

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Jun 17, 2020

Source: Lenovo

Source: Lenovo

  • Absolutely... ?
  • Well, not ‘nothing’ but perhaps not as much as its supporters envisage
  • All the laptop vendors are going to try, who’s going to buy?



Lenovo is giving the 5G embedded laptop concept a whirl via exclusive relationships with prominent carriers in major markets. It has inked deals with Verizon in the US, EE in the UK, Sunrise in Switzerland and CMCC in China with more deals on the way. 

The platform is Lenovo’s Flex 5G (called the Yoga 5G in the UK), claimed to be the first Windows 5G enabled laptop. It’s also the first ARM-powered Windows laptop to support 5G, which it does via Qualcomm’s 8cx processor and X55 5G modem. According to analyst Kester Mann, Director, Consumer and Connectivity at CCS Insight, Lenovo won’t be alone in this either. Other 5G equipped laptops are coming down the pike. 

And at first sight the concept seems sensible, even inevitable. For the serious, probably professional, laptop user out of range of corporate Wi-Fi, a direct and secure 5G connection for the managerial laptop might be just what the IT manager ordered. 

And yet...  a nagging doubt remains. The last time this was tried, way back in the early days of 4G, it garnered much support initially.  “Why would anyone want to cling to Wi-Fi when 4G was available?” was the prevailing thought at the time. But it didn’t work out and before long embedded 4G practically became an “unthing”. What made it slightly redundant, apart from corporate use, was tethering, which surged to support 'out of Wi-Fi range' laptops. 

So will embedded 5G catch on?

It’s early days, but the promise of embedded 5G is pretty much a carbon copy of the initial promise of embedded LTE. Today with 5G it’s all about more responsive, more stable links than both 4G and Wi-Fi and that’s before you count in connection security when out and about and the inherent security of having more than one connectivity option at hand during a minor crisis. 

However, underlying costs clearly change and may well make a completely different case for embedding 5G. 

For one thing the cost of data has transformed with unlimited data options for 5G and 4G now a commonplace. If operators could rejig their business models so that two devices (say one smartphone and one laptop) shared a single data allowance, that would surely get rid of one barrier and improve the chances of uptake.

Indeed, CCS Insight’s Kester Mann thinks that things have changed and that 5G in laptops is now a clear trend.

“All the leading PC makers have announced at least one product in this category,” says Kester. “Still, the category will take time to establish itself, in part because there is still huge potential in 4G laptops and also in light of the time it will take for 5G networks to achieve wide-area coverage to justify the purchase to consumers.”

He says there is clear evidence that the move to adopting embedded 5G is already well under way. 

“We have seen a number of companies accelerate the deployment of connected laptops as a way of improving end-to-end security,” he says. ”Particularly in the light of Covid-19 where many employees have been working remotely for the first time. Using cellular connectivity provides more certainty on the integrity of the connection when compared to Wi-Fi where a business does not have full control of the security settings.”

”One bank we have heard about has disabled Wi-Fi capability on its users' laptops and now relies 100 per cent on cellular connectivity - this has also allowed them to stop using a VPN. Of course, this has been facilitated by the growing number of operators offering unlimited data plans too,” he points out. ‘Unlimited’ clearly levels the playing field in the corporate market.  

But what about your regular consumer? Are they poised to flock to embedded laptops? ‘Flock’ is clearly overstating it somewhat but there is movement.

“Our study of UK and US consumers showed encouraging interest to connect laptops, tablets and smart TVs to a 5G service one day. We believe that if 5G fulfils its promise of wider and more reliable coverage, and if operators are able to sell or bundle connectivity effectively cellular-enabled devices beyond smartphones could enjoy good growth.”

Flocking delayed?

Kester says 44% of people CCS spoke to in the US (and 38% in the UK) said they would be interested to connect a laptop to 5G in the next three years. 

“The biggest barrier to connecting a laptop to 5G, according to our research, is that most people use laptops at home where they connect it to Wi-Fi. The Covid crisis - that has seen in-home usage soar - could magnify this challenge. Concern about cost is another factor as cellular-enabled devices are more expensive than models that only support Wi-Fi.

“Another potential hurdle is growing use of public Wi-Fi. However, the mobile industry could seek to overcome this by promoting a more secure and reliable service without the inconvenience of having to enter usernames and passwords to connect.” (see - Is the ‘open global roaming Wi-Fi federation’ no-fuss, no mess Wi-Fi login relief?).

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