While Indian analysts focus on the rankings of the telecom operators, the less affluent amongst the massive user population is worried about the rates that are creeping up. The discontinuation of the small-money talktime recharge packs is amongst the main offenders for the poor. For those less concerned about goings-on at the lower rungs, there seems to be considerable hope amidst inadequate information, especially amongst the gearheads, that 5G, the next-gen wireless technology, will suddenly tilt the balance in the users’ favour with its promise of unimagined capacity, furious speed, brilliant new apps and low latency; exactly what ‘digital India’ demands. A McKinsey analysis prior to the Mobile World Congress, that began this week in Barcelona, places things in perspective. While optimists expect whoops of 5G ecstasy, the analysis says that the “much-touted potential as the foundation for the digital future, 5G may have as many skeptics as true believers”, given the considerable cost and complexity of building the sophisticated infrastructure with little clarity on actual return on investment. This has serious implications for India currently focusing on the digital route to set many governance issues right. There is no dearth of confidence in the technology aspects of 5G which, if implemented, can emerge as a saviour with new revenue growth for telcos. But at least 46 global technology officers featured in the survey are skeptical about the economics of implementation. There is, besides, the challenge within the organisations that have to “radically reinvent” themselves in terms of mindsets and operational styles with far greater digital, analytics and agility components. In India, the mood is guided by the disruptor, Reliance, with most others in a pessimistic phase. However, notwithstanding Mukesh Ambani’s claims that by 2020, “India will be a fully- 4G country and ready for 5G ahead of others”, globally, there are concerns about how 5G can help drive the acceptance of new products and services that customers can afford. It is difficult to assess how much of the Reliance talk is mere grandstanding. The global survey, capturing the ground realities, says that “few have moved beyond the early stages of developing their business cases and commercial plans; most do not expect large-scale deployment until 2022”, which is two years after the Ambani deadline. A far more cautious global telecom community is working with vendors and competitors to ensure that unknown financial implications do not waylay them. Eventually, despite the talk of technology-driven growth, it is consumer satisfaction that will hold the key. In India, in particular, it is about cost because of the 1.8 billion users at least half would not be willing to spend more. Telcos’ grouse against the high tax rates that are eating into their finances will also have to be addressed. 5G will not help resolve these and given this rather unwholesome, excitable, mix of uncertainty, high cost, inadequate infrastructure, the best that 5G can expect is a one cheer.