On Monday, September 23, I attended K-Global 2019 @ Silicon Valley, which showcases Korea’s information and communications technology (ICT) and software (SW) technologies. The theme of this year’s conference was “Future is on 5G,” which was a primary reason I attended.

At Enovix, we’ve been investigating how the evolution from 4G to 5G will affect battery performance in mobile devices with cellular connections. For example, we know that the Sub-6 GHz RF circuitry and antennae will initially consume additional space within a device. Therefore, if the size of a 5G device (e.g., smartphone or smart watch) remains the same as today’s 4G version, the battery will need to be smaller to accommodate the additional components. And that means it will need greater energy density to provide the same operating time between charges, assuming similar energy consumption patterns.

But it’s unlikely that consumption patterns will remain the same. After all, the main benefits of 5G’s much higher speed and lower latency are expected to be new and improved capabilities and a much better user experience. At K-Global, Jinhyo Park, CTO of SK Telecom, presented how 5G along with artificial intelligence and cloud computing will enhance several applications, including vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications, smart factories and video streaming. But it was his description of 5G for augmented and virtual reality (AR & VR) that was an Aha! Moment for me.

Mr. Park emphasized the power and appeal of AR and VR unleased from Wi-Fi. Consumers want to untether goggles and glasses from a restricted range and, in the words of the B-52s (here’s a link for those of you under 30), “Roam if you want to, roam around the world.” I began to think about how new applications so often follow new delivery capabilities. I must admit, the idea of enhanced Pokémon Go does not excite me, however touring a new city or historical site with my glasses providing audio and video information does. But I also realized that the equation of 5G + AI + Cloud is insufficient to deliver this experience, unless you want to cart around a separate battery pack. If you really want to roam free, you’ll also need a better battery.

According to IHS Markit, the forecast for adoption of 5G smartphones is expected to occur mush faster than 4G. About 10 million 5G smartphones are expected to be deployed in 2020, which is about twice the number of 4G smartphones deployed in its first year. That number is expected to escalate quickly to almost 100 million in 2021 (versus less than 20 million 4G smartphones in its second year), over 200 million in 2022 and about 300 million in 2023.

New rich, interactive multimedia content and capabilities will likely arrive as the rollout of devices—including 5G capable AR and VR goggles and glasses as well as 5G smartphones and smart watches—grows exponentially. This means that a better battery will need to be available by 2021 to fully realize the potential of 5G mobile devices. Luckily, we expect to have a silicon-anode based battery (SiB) in the marketplace in 2021 that will provide over 35% greater energy density for wearable-size cells and over 45% greater energy density for smartphone-size cells, versus a conventional lithium-ion battery of the same size. By 2023, we expect our energy density advantage will rise to over 70% and over 100%, respectively.

Therefore, I think the equation to deliver the full promise of a mobile future to consumers is 5G + AI + Cloud + SiB, and we’ll help you get there.