There were rumblings of a worldwide 5G network last year, but it seems telecom and tech companies everywhere may be ready to make it a reality this year. Tech companies are ready to release a new wave of innovations that will require 5G connections, which will be a boon to consumers and businesses everywhere.
The future of 5G, which refers to the fifth generation of mobile networks, was the subject of a keynote panel at the 2018 Consumer Electronic Show, with industry experts giving their outlook on the potential of the wireless technology and what consumers and industries can expect in the next few years. Generally speaking, the upgrade will mean faster uploads and downloads and better support for many devices simultaneously.
The first set of standards for 5G were approved in December by 3GPP, the governing body that oversees industrywide standards for telecoms. Major telecoms are currently staging their rollout of 5G, with companies Verizon and AT&T planning to roll out to limited markets throughout the year. 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.
AT&T recently announced it will begin installing 5G in 12 cities by the end of 2018. The first three cities will reportedly be Atlanta, Georgia, Dallas and Waco, Texas. But Verizon claims to be the first carrier to have completed a 5G call. The carrier conducted a test with Qualcomm and Nokia in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Verizon has said it plans to deploy between three and five 5G networks in 2018, but has not announced specific locations. Sprint and T-Mobile have both said they will launch nationwide in 2019.
However, 5G will mean much more than higher speeds for our smartphones. The upgrade to download and upload speed will be substantial, but the real factor in how 5G will change industries and innovation is the major reduction in latency, which will ensure that connections stay strong, consistent and without interruption.
With more dependable connections, Amon theorized, we may see a reversal in the trend of devices with greater onboard memory to ones with less as we move our 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.
Beyond consumer electronics, low latency will be key for new innovations in the tech industry, including 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. Qi Lu, COO of Baidu, said 5G will drive innovation in AI, and vice versa.
Other fields where mission-critical connections will be essential include medicine, banking and automation. IT infrastructures are also expected to elevate 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 we see 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 signal.
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. 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.