A mobile 5G network promises to be the bridge to Industry 2.0. But the reality is patchy coverage and high entry costs. What should a company’s CTO consider when making the switch to 5G?
With the hype machine cranked up to 11, 5G is among the most anticipated technological leaps in the corporate pipeline. Can it live up to the craze and what are the implications for large, complex data applications?
The 5G factor
In short, 5G offers businesses significant improvements in data performance over previous iterations of cellular technology. It’s faster, with less lag in data transfer and more capacity for throughput.
“The key is that CTOs understand why they are upgrading.”
The implications of this are two-fold: instant online experiences for mobile consumers and, more fundamentally, an opening of the digital economy to enterprise-level, cutting-edge technologies. 5G will increase accessibility for gamers and home workers, who will experience speeds that match wired connections, but large and complex data applications have the greatest potential for impactful change.
“The performance characteristics of 5G connectivity make it possible to bring new technologies into play: edge computing, AI, data analytics and the like,” says Richard Webb, director of network infrastructure at CCS Insight.
“In terms of opportunity, it depends on where an organization is in its digital transformation journey, but as organizations become more data-centric in their operations, 5G offers new opportunities for where operational data and processes reside. This could open a path to better operational efficiencies, cost savings, a means of improving customer experience or generating new revenue streams.”
A big leap forward
Compared to its 4G predecessor, the data transfer speeds of 5G could be 10 to 20 times faster, especially in cities and urban environments where it works best. With speed comes capacity – more information travels the same bandwidth – and this is where the real potential lies.
5G enables enterprises to deploy more devices and sensors in more locations without investing in the kind of fixed-line connectivity needed for high-data consumption and always-connected use cases that will power future smart cities, utilities, transportation, hospitals, and smart factories.
Traditionally, remote connectivity meant smaller data volumes and limited, scheduled feeds, but 5G is raising the bar for volume and continuous upstream and downstream data feeds, according to Jaco Vermeulen, chief technology officer at BML Digital.
He adds: “This allows IoT projects to explore broader possibilities and use cases, as well as much richer inputs for collecting large amounts of data. It opens up artificial intelligence and machine learning to use significantly denser data points for processing, leading to more accurate results.”
New, more powerful cellular technology brings more automation capacity, lower costs, greater support for a wide range of devices with lower power consumption and longer battery life, and improved security.
At the enterprise level, it will facilitate new technologies such as robotic process automation, predictive analytics and flexible remote working models for employees in the field and at home.
According to Doug Castor, senior director for 6G projects at Philadelphia-based InterDigital, the greater number of people working outside of centralized hubs means more high-level enterprise applications are being accessed via consumer-grade cell phones, so connectivity needs to be improved.
“With more complex applications now serving a whole new set of use cases, such advances are pushing 4G connectivity to the limit and pushing data consumption to the extreme. As a result, 4G must pass the baton to 5G as such quality of service requirements push the limits of what it can deliver.”
More than an overall acceleration, opportunity is a gateway to entirely new advances in health, manufacturing, travel and retail, to name just a few parts of the economy ripe for modernization.
“The urban IoT, hospitals, real estate, transportation and municipalities will leverage the smart technologies designed to improve quality of life, community interaction and public safety, with the continued rollout of 5G providing the bandwidth,” says Laura Roman, CMO of US-based company EDJX.
The road to adoption
5G will facilitate granular, real-time data collection in the factories of the future. It will help doctors screen patients before they reach the hospital. Shoppers could have seamless access to virtual fitting rooms. The opportunities are vast and it’s easy for buyers to stay ahead of themselves, but according to CCS Insight’s Richard Webb, companies that define a clear business case before acquiring 5G technology will achieve the best results.
“I generally don’t condone anyone who has ever ‘hurried’ to upgrade, but I think 5G is worth considering by enterprise CIOs, CTOs and network directors. It can be a powerful option to support digital transformation and enable more flexible data and cloud or edge operations.
“It will primarily benefit organizations that have identified use cases that are constrained by existing network infrastructure. It could deploy a private 5G cellular network within the corporate campus to support localized applications and enable new use cases, enhance data security and create a more unified technology platform across the enterprise.
He gives the example of a company looking to upgrade its CCTV network. Its Wi-Fi network might handle feeds from 25 cameras across campus, but a private 5G network could allow it to double that number. Other use cases include adding new operations, data collection for analytics, inventory sensors, and so on. It is critical that CTOs understand why they are upgrading.
5G for business
Another argument against the switch is the existing 5G device ecosystem, which is catching up beyond smartphones, in part due to the side effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and semiconductor shortages.
According to BML Digital’s Jaco Vermeulen, companies should also consider whether aggregators and storage, processing functions and automation systems are all capable of handling advanced data exchange.
Asaf Gigi, floLIVE’s VP Marketing, points to the potentially high cost of entry and issues with patchy coverage, at least in the early days, although over time these two factors will balance out.
In a way, 5G promises to provide the missing link between Industries 1.0 and 2.0, and without 5G, many futures will remain just that. If the experts are right, new cellular technology will meet enterprise-level expectations for businesses, just not overnight.
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