It’s been hard to avoid the buzz around 5G. In 2019, we saw the first operators in Europe launch their 5G services, while manufacturers have unveiled a flurry of phones and other 5G-compatible devices, all with the promise to revolutionise our mobile internet experience.
Understandably, device manufacturers and operators are keen to push the benefits of 5G. Aside from the fact that they need to recoup the substantial investments they’ve made bidding for spectrum and developing new devices, they recognise that the idea of downloading whole boxsets in seconds resonates loudly with today’s impatient, always-on consumers.
But it’s not just tech-savvy consumers who will benefit from 5G. Businesses too will be able to take advantage of its fibre-like speeds, though they might have to wait a while for these benefits to reach fruition.
5G rollouts: a reality check
Even though 5G services have launched across many European countries, in reality, the roll-out of infrastructures is still very much a work-in-progress, which means most businesses won’t be able to access 5G for a while yet.
The UK is a great example. Here, EE launched the first commercially available 5G service in May 2019, followed shortly after by Vodafone and O2. Yet, more recently, the British media has been filled with headlines about whether its government should grant Huawei the contract to build the nation’s 5G infrastructure.
This poses an interesting question: How can operators offer 5G when the infrastructure hasn’t even been built?
These operators do, of course, have 5G networks, but right now, they are only in specific areas; typically, small pockets within the larger cities. Businesses outside these urban areas will have to wait for more spectrum to become available, for signal quality to improve, and for nationwide networks to be built.
The UK is by no means alone, Spain, Ireland, Italy and Germany boasting all have fledgeling 5G services, while operators in many other nations expect to switch on their services this year. Despite these inroads, it’ll be a few more years yet before 5G is truly ubiquitous.
5G will be worth the wait
Despite the wait, 5G does offer significant advantages over other mobile and wireless technologies. We looked at these in our previous blog, while here we’ll share our views on where we think 5G’s technical differentiators will have the most significant impact on businesses.
5G should end the broadband postcode lottery
For many companies – particularly SMBs – the broadband service they use will depend entirely on their location. If fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) services are available, that’s great, but for far too many firms – especially those in remote, rural areas – this isn’t a possibility.
5G, with its fibre-like connectivity speeds, could end this postcode lottery. Businesses will no longer be restricted to operating from locations that are on the physical telecoms network, while those which are stuck with services delivered over copper, will have a faster option.
Remote working rebooted
With increased user-end speeds of over 1Gbps, remote working will become a realistic option for more employees. Indeed, for some businesses, the idea of making staff commute to an office could even become obsolete.
Superior networking speeds will make using cloud-based applications and file-sharing platforms as quick as accessing your hard drive, while communications will be vastly improved. As well as raw speed, 5G has reduced latency that will enable reliable, easy conference calls and consistent connection wherever users are located. That means colleagues, suppliers, customers and more can communicate and collaborate as if they’re in the same room.
Smart cities will really take off
Because 5G operates at higher frequencies than 4G, it offers increased capacity over shorter distances, making it ideally suited for densely populated urban areas. Indeed, its ability to support a high density of devices means that the rollout of 5G is intrinsically linked with the rollout of smart city initiatives.
To function, smart cities need to transmit the massive amounts of data that will be generated by the millions of sensors located across the urban environment in real-time. What’s more, this data must be analysed and fed back to the infrastructure to drive changes in the operation of cities.
The connectivity and low latency characteristics of 5G will also be vital if autonomous vehicles and smart roads are ever to become a reality.
Flexibility for factories
Production lines and factories are set to see considerable advantages from 5G. Currently, manufacturers are tied to networks based on Industrial Ethernet (IE) protocols. However, there is no single standard for IE; instead, there is a mix of both open and proprietary protocols. This narrows the choice organisations have over which controllers and switches to deploy, and locks them into specific vendor relationships, which can ultimately inhibit innovation.
5G means factories no longer need to bet on which IE protocol will be best for their operations long-term. It will allow them to be more flexible, efficient and innovative.
Branch location flexibility
5G offers enormous potential for the future of branch offices and physical retail outlets by providing reliable, fast connection speeds even at busy times, improving branch connectivity, payment processing and enabling instant connectivity for remote or pop-up outlets. Expect it to be coupled with network management tools capable of monitoring and controlling connectivity for hundreds or thousands of locations from one central point, making it easy for lean IT teams to set up and troubleshoot networks, no matter the location.
Revolutionising healthcare provision
Healthcare providers face the growing challenge of how to provide care and services to all the population, regardless of where they’re based. Some professionals – particularly those with specialist skills – could be located outside the reach of the people who most need their help.
5G could change this forever.
Doctor appointments could be via video, with no long wait while the medical receptionist finds a slot to visit the surgery. Emergency calls could be enhanced with video too, allowing frontline responders to assess a patient better before they arrive at the scene. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but there are even trials of surgeons using haptics to conduct operations over 5G networks. You can check out this initiative, spearheaded by Kings College London, here.
In summary, the potential benefits of 5G to businesses in all sectors are enormous. That said, despite the recent hype, and the fact that the UK is one of the first countries to invest in a 5G rollout, widespread availability of 5G is still a few years away. When it does arrive, there is no doubt that 5G will have a significant, positive impact on the way businesses operate.