It’s Not a Race to 5G

Essential business operations depend on reliable internet connectivity enabled by equipment that is purpose-built for industry-specific applications. Whether you’re a fleet manager keeping track of drivers and inventory or a hospital administrator connecting physicians with patients through secure telehealth software, your technology must work seamlessly and with as little latency as possible. That’s why connected devices are an indispensable business tool.   

The arrival of 5G heralds a new wave of business communication that is faster, more reliable, and more accessible than any previous generation of wireless technology. With higher throughput speeds, increased security, and more bandwidth, enterprise businesses will be able to deploy more devices and receive more data to increase productivity like never before. 

But before you go all in on a 5G technology investment, there are some important things to consider.    

What do you need to know about 5G?

Every new generation of cellular technology is designed to be an upgrade to the one before, boasting faster speeds and greater bandwidth in addition to security and quality of service (QoS) enhancements. 5G offers (theoretical) throughput speeds up to 100 times greater than 4G LTE and is touted by proponents to deliver the best user experience of any wireless communication protocol. But here’s the catch: just like with every previous generation, rollout on a level sufficient to enable enterprise-wide adoption takes time and requires a great deal of planning. In addition to limiting the mobility of a workforce if 5G coverage is not fully available, ROI on technology investments and potential business disruption are considerations for organizations looking to upgrade. 

What will rollout look like?

Though 5G is projected to be the fastest rollout of a new generation of cellular technology so far, the overall timeline is still measured in years. 5G networks are only projected to cover 40% of the population by 2024. 4G LTE will be the standard for a while yet. This gives organizations time to strategically plan their switch. 

Time isn’t the only determining factor when it comes to the implementation of 5G. It’s not enough to just have access to 5G if your existing infrastructure doesn’t support it. Older generations of devices cannot receive 5G signals, and they will need to either be replaced outright or upgraded to be compatible with 5G networks. That will require an investment in itself and could potentially cause downtime for your business.       

Why should you be excited about 5G?

The Pros of 5G include faster download speeds, reduced latency, and increased bandwidth. But what do these advantages mean in a practical sense for business technology leaders? 

Faster download speeds are an obvious win all around. Agents in the field will be able to access their files and applications from anywhere, quickly. Users will be able to maintain the same level of productivity on the road as they would if they were sitting in the office. Virtual meetings will run smoother and be able to maintain high quality video and audio. The increased bandwidth 5G offers will contribute to this as well. With more bandwidth, more devices can be online at once without slowing down. Being able to put more devices online from anywhere will create huge opportunities in the IoT space, especially when you consider that many of those devices are running consistently. 

The sharp drop in latency is a benefit that has already proven to have fascinating use cases. The world’s first remote surgeries (surgeries performed by finely tuned machinery guided by a real professional), have been performed specifically thanks to 5G technology. Because the latency is so low, the physician can make quick adjustments to the robotic assistance tools in real-time with the same level of responsiveness they would have if they were performing the surgery themselves.  

It’s also important to note that not every device needs to be on 5G; if you have devices that don’t require high speeds or low latency to serve their purpose you may choose to consider extending their lifecycles for as long as possible, in turn reducing the total cost of ownership of your technology.  

As time goes on, we will surely see more critical uses for technology that takes advantage of 5G speeds.      

Setting the correct pace for your own 5G implementation

There are some important factors to consider when planning to implement 5G technology. Cost is one. It’s not certain how much more or less expensive 5G is going to be compared to 4G, because the networks are actively being built. Predictions estimate that infrastructure spending will be much higher for 5G due to the number of cells needed. Higher infrastructure costs could end up justifying higher price points for consumers. 

When new technology is built, it usually signals the death of the technology that was there before. With the growing prominence of 4G LTE and now 5G networks, older technologies that still rely on 2G and 3G networks will have an expiration date. The concept of “sunsetting,” an older technology means shutting that technology for good, and several carriers have announced their plans to shut down their 3G networks in the coming months. Businesses still utilizing 2G and 3G technology will need to come up with a plan to upgrade or replace those devices. 

There are also environmental concerns. Energy usage is expected to rise as more and more devices join the network, and the manufacturing process to create all these new devices and cells can have a negative environmental impact if not managed carefully. The good news is that there are already discussions taking place on how to make 5G as energy efficient as possible for the sake of meeting climate action challenges.  

Questions to ask

The arrival of 5G technology creates huge areas of opportunity for businesses and service providers at all levels. Implementation will not be an immediate demand, so there’s time to strategize. Consider the benefits of the technology itself but also take time to determine what your needs are. Do you have any technology still running on the networks set to “sunset,” as 5G gains prominence? If so, will you find a way to extend their lifecycles or replace them outright?  

Innovation and obsolescence are two sides of the same coin. As newer, faster technologies gain ground the technology we’re used to quickly begins to show its age. But here’s the good news: 4G LTE isn’t going to be leaving us anytime soon. It will be here to support you and your technology while carriers continue to build their 5G networks and business leaders evolve their technology to work on them.