The promise of 5G is that it will finally usher in the era of gigabit speeds for everyone. While most of the consumer market thinks about being able to download games and movies in seconds, there are some big implications for small businesses as well.
The 5G rollout is quickly gaining speed, with each wireless carrier expanding its 5G network footprint. At the same time, cell phone manufacturers are increasing the number of 5G-capable devices. Globally, Gartner found demand for 5G smartphones was 32 times higher in 2021 than in 2019, indicating a quickening pace of adoption among consumers.
Many focus on 5G’s exciting promise of gigabit speeds, and that is an important part of the equation – but one of the most transformative changes that 5G will bring is shorter communication delays.
Latency is the time it takes for a data packet to get from one point to another. The more latency can be reduced, the better the many devices online can communicate. This is important for businesses that rely on IoT (Internet of Things) technology, connecting multiple devices and sensors to provide insights on business operations and product placement and to communicate business data. According to a report from Ericsson, there will be 30 billion IoT devices by 2027, with 5.5 billion of them operating on cellular connections. [Learn how the Internet of Things is changing the way we work for the better – and, on the flip side, how IoT devices could be bad for business.]
Many in the industry are speaking of 5G as a significant leap forward for application types such as augmented reality and virtual reality, which will be able to operate with greater efficiency. These applications, along with gaming and rapid download of large files, are often reserved for a Wi-Fi connection, but 5G has the potential to make this technology work for many use cases and expand what businesses can do on a wireless network.
The rollout of 5G home internet services also promises to deliver faster internet to users at home, which could further increase productivity for hybrid or remote employees.
Along with higher speeds, some underlying technology makes 5G unique. For example, regulators have opened up new, unused bands known as “millimeter waves.” The power and equipment constraints made it so transmissions at these bands weren’t feasible with previous technology. Ericsson indicated in its 2021 “This Is 5G” report that 5G networks could achieve peak download and upload speeds of 20 and 10 Gbps, respectively, compared with 1 and 0.2 Gbps for 4G networks.
5G also promises to differentiate itself from 4G in scale matters. According to the Ericsson report, 5G networks will have latencies of 1 millisecond, compared with 10 milliseconds on 4G networks. Additionally, 5G will provide significant economic benefit to businesses by handling exponentially greater IoT device density. Whereas 4G networks can handle 250 IoT devices per square mile, 5G promises to handle 2.5 million devices per square mile.
This shift will be largely due to 5G’s underlying network differences from 4G. While still using radio waves like 2G, 3G, and 4G do, 5G will use an integrated mixture of high, mid, and low frequency radio waves. These waves are then integrated through a 5G core, which allows for new technologies such as network slicing and edge computing to further increase network speeds.
5G networks have yet to reach their full potential as their rollout continues. However, they promise significant improvements over 4G in terms of both speed and latency, and some of these gains are already being realized.
Every major mobile carrier in the U.S. is in the process of rolling out and expanding its 5G network infrastructure. In addition to 5G plans for cell phones, carriers have launched 5G home and business networks to bring 5G speeds to wireless networks via wireless 5G routers. These plans benefit consumers and businesses in areas where high-speed wired internet is currently unavailable.
Verizon has launched the 5G Ultra Wideband network, which it claims is up to 10 times faster than its previous 4G LTE speeds, in select cities throughout the U.S. Along with the Ultra Wideband rollout, Verizon launched a nationwide 5G network that covers over 2,700 cities and 200 million Americans. Verizon 5G Nationwide’s speeds are comparable to 4G LTE, with Verizon claiming the network is constantly improving.
Verizon has also rolled out the 5G Home Internet and 5G Business Unlimited plans. The company promises that latency will drop into milliseconds on its plans so that lag times will be undetectable.
AT&T has rolled out its own mobile 5G network, with similar promises about how this connectivity will be key for consumers and businesses. Similar to Verizon, AT&T offers a 5G network covering 255 million Americans, as well as a 5G+ network boasting higher speeds and greater connectivity; access to that network is currently available in select regions of eight major metropolitan areas.
AT&T Business is also rolling out multiple 5G business solutions for different business use cases. [Related article: 10 Small Business Tech Trends of 2022]
The T-Mobile and Sprint merger has led to a wide coverage area of 5G across the U.S., with T-Mobile claiming its 5G network covers 90% of Americans and most interstate highway miles. Like AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile is planning to expand its 5G coverage with a gradual rollout of its faster Ultra Capacity and Extended Range 5G network options. T-Mobile has also rolled out the 5G Small Business Internet and 5G Home Internet plans.
Verizon and T-Mobile currently offer 5G home internet without contracts or sign-up fees. Small and midsize businesses can try out these internet options for a low monthly fee to see how they compare with their current wired internet plans in speed, reliability and cost.
Beyond consumer electronics, low latency will be key for new innovations in the tech industry, including artificial intelligence and automation.
5G will enable mission-critical operations for emerging tech services. Chinese tech giant Baidu recently announced its plans for self-driving vehicles, with 5G technology key to their success. In scenarios of constant connection to a network, such as digital maps and security, the self-driving vehicles of the near future will rely on strong 5G connections.
Other fields where 5G connections will be essential are medicine, banking and automation. IT infrastructures are also expected to transition to cloud hosting, reducing the need for physical hardware and transforming the workforce. Companies that have hesitated to take the virtualization leap may reevaluate when the benefits of 5G latency and speed become clear. [Weigh the pros and cons of virtualization before making the transition for your own business.]
Industries that rely on constant inputs of data are also likely to gather early benefits from 5G rollouts. Dell Technologies notes that 5G networks’ support for more IoT sensors in a given area could enable improvements in agriculture by monitoring precise environmental conditions. Similarly, improvements in operational technology on a 5G network could allow for real-time data transfer in the manufacturing industry.
5G will ultimately impact most industries; however, its impact is likely to be felt first in tech and other industries where even the smallest amount of latency could be problematic. Advanced internet technology is already radically changing the manufacturing industry as well as the healthcare and banking sectors.
As telecom companies build up the 5G network infrastructure, it’s time for businesses to think about how 5G will impact them and how they can take advantage of it. 5G will be key to fields like automation, AI, and machine learning, as well as virtualization and cloud computing. It’s important to start planning how these fields will affect your workforce and how you do business, because they will likely see a boom in the next few years. [Related article: What’s the Difference Between Machine Learning and Automation?]
Ultimately, 5G makes big promises for the types of devices and experiences that technology can deliver. Depending on the type of small business you have, this can make a big difference in how you work or connect with your customers.
No matter how the hype pans out as carriers expand their networks, it’s quite likely that this will be a necessary improvement to mobile network latency and speed. So it’s time to think about how to make this future work for you and your business.
Derek Walter contributed to the writing and research in this article.