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 business as well.
We're still at the very beginning of the 5G era, with each wireless carrier laying out its own plans for what its network rollout will look like. The first cell phones with 5G capability just rolled out with the Motorola Moto Z3 and the 5G Moto Mod. Many more 5G devices will launch this year – an indication that it's time to start paying attention to what this new era of mobility will bring.
What 5G will do
Many focus on speed when it comes to 5G, and that is an important part of the equation. While the promise of gigabit speeds are exciting, one of the main transformative changes that 5G will bring is reduced communication delays.
Latency is how much 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 will be important for businesses that rely on IoT (internet of things) technology, connecting multiple devices and sensors to provide insight into business operations and product placement and to communicate data about business operations. According to a report from Ericsson, there will be 18 billion IoT devices by 2022, with 1.5 billion of them operating on cellular connections.
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 currently, but 5G has the potential to make this technology work for many use cases and expand what businesses can do.
How to get 5G
Verizon recently launched a home 5G network in October with a limited rollout in a few cities that it will ramp 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 capable of handling bandwidth demands and servicing a wide enough area. The company promises that latency will drop into milliseconds so that lag times will be undetectable.
AT&T, meanwhile, has rolled out its own mobile 5G network, with similar promises about how this connectivity will be key for the business world. Both companies tout innovation and testing labs to further advance the networks' integrations with smart devices. T-Mobile also has its own 5G buildout, with a key part of its strategy being the planned merger with Sprint.
4G vs. 5G
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. Semiconductor and telecom company Qualcomm indicated that typical speed could be in the 1.4Gbps range, with the potential peak speed of 5Gbps.
Currently, the top broadband providers offer 1Gbps in select markets, although many home networks don't come close to those high speeds. By comparison, the latest industry report from OpenSignal found that the highest LTE speeds have plateaued at about 45Gbps. While that sounded fast a few years ago, it's a far cry from what 5G could bring.
State of the networks
All of the major wireless networks have chimed in with their plans for 5G.
Verizon is launching its first 5G rollout April 11 in Chicago and Minneapolis, with plans to expand to 30 markets by the end of the year. The company's business-focused 5G site plays up how the promise of low latency is a boost for the business world.
AT&T has plans as well, first with a supercharged 4G network that it has dubbed 5GE. This is already available in 12 markets, with plans for a proper 5G network later this year. Those in the supported cities can also access the Netgear NightHawk 5G Mobile Hotspot to take advantage of these speeds with different devices.
T-Mobile also has plans for 5G this year, saying that it will be 10 times faster than its current LTE network. The company also touts a combination of its 600MHz spectrum with Sprint's 2.5GHz spectrum, alluding to the wireless carrier's proposed merger with Sprint.
As for Sprint, it essentially mirrors T-Mobile's effort, with references to the planned merger. Expect to hear more details through the year as the different wireless providers compete to offer the more powerful or expansive 5G network. It will be a major play for customers, with each company projecting itself as the keeper of the future of mobile technology.
How 5G will change devices
Cristiano R. Amon, president of Qualcomm, predicted at CES 2018 that the flagship mobile phones would be introduced as early as this year. 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 the 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. 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 the Moto Z3 with a 5G Mod as the first device for the company's 5G network. The company promises you can download an entire movie within seconds. This is just the first device, so expect other original equipment manufacturers to make announcements about their own offerings.
The industries 5G will affect first
Beyond consumer electronics, low latency will be key for new innovations in the tech industry, including artificial intelligence 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 and 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 are 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 to pull the trigger on virtualization may re-evaluate when the benefits of 5G latency and speed become clear.
As telecom companies continue to 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, 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 they will likely see a boom in the next few years.
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 for how you work or connect with customers. No matter how the hype pans out, it's quite likely 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.