What’s All The Fuss About 5G?

How is 5G really going to affect your business?

Following the relatively stagnant world of third generation mobile networks, the 4G revolution fundamentally changed our browsing and communication habits. Download and upload speeds rocketed, enabling data exchange at much faster and reliable rates. The impact for enterprise was huge. Networks could cope with a higher volume of users and devices without crashing, the speed of data exchange accelerated, and remote but collaborative working was enabled by reliable video conferencing and shared databases.

So, when network providers began to talk about 5G, imaginations ran wild. The next generation of connectivity is expected to provide the foundations for all manner of disruptive technologies, including augmented and virtual reality, the Internet of Things, and nanotech.

But what does 5G mean for enterprise, and what changes should businesses prepare for?

Scoping out the future of connectivity

CommScope, a multinational network infrastructure provider based in the US, has been at the forefront of global communications and connectivity since the 1970s. Douglas Rankin, CommScope’s Vice President of Mobility for Europe, has almost two decades of experience working in telecommunications. Today, he believes we have reached the ‘cautious early adoption stage’ of 5G.

“Some consumers will soon receive a first taste of 5G in specific geographic locations, using specific applications, none of which are ubiquitous or cost optimised. There is currently limited radio frequency infrastructure – including base station antenna sites – available to the market for 3.5 GHz spectrum bands. These bands underpin 5G, and such macro cell upgrades and outdoor small cell deployments will be crucial for operators, many of which are already strained on network capacity.”

Although 5G deployment is clearly at a very early stage, impressive 5G speeds are already here. According to Rankin, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G phone was able to download the pilot episode of The Office from Netflix in eight seconds on Verizon’s network. Marvel’s Iron Man 2 took 90 seconds to download. While such a service is certainly impressive, distributing it to a mass market won’t be easy. Due to technical complexity, mobile edge computing and advanced fibre optics will be needed to eliminate bottlenecks. So what happens once the hurdles are overcome?

A 5G fix

5G will be particularly important for automation across industrial applications, both in physical processes and decision making. These opportunities have gone beyond the ‘what if?’ phase, and are now well underway. 5TONIC, an open research and innovation laboratory (of which CommScope is a member) is exploring advanced M2M communications, wearable technology, and the use of sensors to reduce human error and improve safety. Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), which delivers connectivity via wireless rather than fixed lines, will also benefit greatly from a 5G boost. At the moment, FWA’s performance is weaker than line-based options due to insufficient download speeds and latency. But, with 5G’s high frequency mmWave spectrum, FWA will provide an alternative way to keep businesses and consumers connected. Using FWA to solve ‘last mile connectivity’ will bridge the gap between company and consumer, bringing more potential customers online.

5G-enabled technologies are equally applicable to a wide variety of industries, including those that might not initially come to mind such as commercial property.

“The commercial property industry stands to benefit greatly from the 5G rollout, with service providers and neutral hosts deploying private networks that will give them a totally wireless office space with higher quality,” says Rankin. “This position will only strengthen as 5G encourages even more enthusiastic adoption of collaborative spaces.”

Another interesting example is architecture, where 5G will enable higher quality virtual reality. VR has already emerged as a vital tool in many creative fields, making design processes more interactive and precise.

“During the design process, VR allows potential buyers to step into a building and change the windows, doors, and rooms, all from a headset. VR requires real time video over an internet communications link. If the connection is unreliable, bandwidth is too low, or latency is too high, the experience is degraded and may become useless. This year will see higher speed 5G networks designed to support peer to peer traffic with a greatly enhanced capability to support data generated at the end user device.”

Bringing the bandwidth

We are fast approaching the 5G era, but how can businesses prepare? As a first point of call, organisations should consider doing their own research into what a 5G future might look like for them. They could also work with partners to test out possible applications before making a full commitment. CommScope, for example, is working with Nokia to develop ‘passive-active’ antenna solutions to boost cell site capacity. 5TONIC has established a co-creation laboratory in Madrid as a 5G test bed for companies and operators across sectors. There are also infrastructural changes to be made, so that the higher frequency spectrum needed for 5G deployment can operate in potentially tricky locations.

“Deploying 5G is about deploying new spectrums. Most of these higher frequency spectrums don’t penetrate walls very well. When thinking about users inside of buildings such as enterprise spaces, airports and underground train stations, we’ll be seeing more deployments of purpose built systems to bring that bandwidth to them,” says Rankin. “Open RAN, which is essentially the mobile industry’s equivalent of open source, will enable a service creation environment that can help realise the more advanced 5G use cases.”

Once the necessary bandwidth is in place, 5G will be able to deliver on its many promises. While huge strides will be made over the course of this year, Rankin believes mass use is unlikely until 2020 at the earliest. Before this happens, companies that have benefitted from the 4G world need to realise that things are going to change. Just as 4G completely changed what was possible with 3G, businesses should be prepared for another total transformation.

“The likes of Uber, Deliveroo and Twitter are success stories of the 4G era, and modern life without services like these are difficult to envision,” says Rankin. “But the legacy of 5G will be new applications that haven’t even been thought of yet, for example in driverless cars and industrial IoT.”

Follow 5G in our free, weekly newsletter here.