The promise of 5G is that it will finally usher in the era of ubiquitous internet, delivered anywhere and with sufficient speeds for all types of connectivity-demanding tasks. With each leap on the G number ladder, there's an expectation that web browsing, messaging, file transfer and other business-critical tasks will get even faster. But there is far more to consider with 5G than simply the push for faster download speeds.
What 5G will do
5G will mean much more than higher speeds for our smartphones. While the increased speed may be substantial, particularly in areas that only have pedestrian download speeds, the real factor in how 5G will change industries and innovation is the reduction in latency, which will ensure that connections stay strong, consistent and without interruption.
This will be important for businesses that rely on internet of things (IoT) technology that connects multiple devices and sensors, which provide insight about business operations, product placement, and use sensors to communicate data about business operations. The promise of 5G is that it will enable substantially more bandwidth and lower latency for real-time communication with critical tasks.
How to get 5G
Verizon recently launched a home 5G network with a limited rollout in a few cities that is to be ramped up over time. It's the first go in what will be an expanding battle among the major service providers to build out a 5G network that is capable of handling bandwidth demands and can service a wide enough area.
AT&T, on the other hand, has rolled out its own mobile 5G network, with similar promises about how this connectivity will be key for the business world. Both companies also tout innovation and testing labs to further advance the networks' integrations with smart devices. T-Mobile is touting its 5G buildout, with a key part of that strategy being the planned merger with Sprint.
How 5G will change devices
Cristiano R. Amon, president of semiconductor and telecom company Qualcomm, predicted that the flagship mobile phones will be introduced as early as the beginning of 2019 and may be showcased at next year's CES.
With more dependable connections, Amon theorized, there may be a reversal in the trend of devices with greater onboard memory to ones with less memory as we move data to cloud storage, which will be much more accessible with 5G. This may affect the prices of mobile devices positively, since there will be less need for physical storage.
AT&T recently announced it will release two Samsung 5G phones in 2019, the second of which will be able to access sub-6GHz spectrum in addition to millimeter wave (mmWave). The mmWave spectrum offers speeds of up to 1Gbps and ultra-low latency for everyday use, but it has struggled with in-building penetration. But the sub-6GHz band should help with that, even if it is a bit slower. The carrier also announced it will carry a Netgear 5G mobile hotspot.
Verizon has announced it will offer a Samsung 5G phone in the first half of 2019. And while that's a good start, it will be some time before 5G is widely available in most major cities or from most major phone makers.
Which industries will be affected by 5G first
Beyond consumer electronics, low latency will be key for new innovations in the tech industry, including artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. 5G will enable tech services to perform mission-critical operations. 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 as well as security, the self-driving vehicles of the near future will rely on strong 5G connections to work.
Other fields where mission-critical connections will be essential include medicine, banking and automation. IT infrastructures are also expected to transition to the cloud, reducing the need for physical hardware and transforming the workforce. In the past, companies that have hesitated on pulling the trigger on virtualization may re-evaluate when the benefits of 5G latency and speed become clear.
Another 5G goal is to allow more devices to be connected without the typical congestion seen with 4G LTE when too many phones are in one area. This will be essential as more IoT devices hit the market and compete with smartphones for a signal and bandwidth.
Other benefits to businesses will come from being closer to their customers who are connected to them through 5G technology. Near-instant connection to customer service, AI or human, will require speed and latency.
As telecoms continue to build up the 5G network infrastructure, it's time for businesses to begin thinking about how 5G will impact them and how they can take advantage of it. 5G will be key to fields like automation, AI, machine learning, virtualization and cloud computing. It's important to start planning how these fields will affect your workforce and how you do business, because these fields will likely see a boom in the next few years.
Additional reporting by Andreas Rivera.