In my last blog, I explained how in the next three years, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are expected to more than double in importance, becoming the most critical wireless technologies for businesses. I started by narrowing in on Wi-Fi 6, but now let’s turn our attention to 5G.

According to PwC’s US Mobile Index, as of January 2021, coverage continues to make gains, reaching 75%. By July 2021, 80% of the U.S. population is expected to have 5G coverage available at home or work. Meanwhile, device penetration gained traction as pre-holiday purchases were activated. It is expected that 12% of mobile devices in use by July 2021 will be 5G enabled. PwC industry specialists anticipate 5G to hit a tipping point in 2023.

Meanwhile, ABI Research has made a number of predictions including: 2021 will mark the beginning of open networks; many will begin implementing AI (artificial intelligence) in the Open RAN (radio access network) Radio Intelligence Controller; and COVID-19 will accelerate the adoption of neutral host networks and the definition of new business models.

What won’t happen in 2021? ABI says the deployment of 5G indoors won’t happen along with virtual RAN not accelerating the deployment of centralized RAN solutions. However, it is likely that with the adoption of virtual RAN solutions, MNOs (mobile network operators) will start to transition from fully distributed networks, where CUs and DUs are colocated at the cell site, to centralize the CU at the core edge depending on the use case scenario.

Meanwhile, Deloitte predicts that this year, the global market for the intelligent edge will reach $12 billion, continuing a CAGR of around 35%. That increase is being driven primarily by telecommunications companies and their expanding 5G networks, along with hyperscale cloud providers. In particular, pairing 5G with edge computing can enable realtime services.

5G in Business

We see a number of examples in the business world of how 5G can make a big difference. For example, in Las Vegas, officials are deploying a private 5G network to support smart-city projects. Here the city is connecting IoT (Internet of Things) sensors and cameras mounted on traffic light poles to better manage traffic flows at intersections. Images are sent to edge servers, where AI analyzes them to determine volume, direction, and flow of vehicles. The goal is to understand traffic patterns in realtime, adjusting signal timing and digital signage to ease congestion. The hope is to achieve efficiency gains of up to 40%.

Naturally, there are big use cases for 5G in manufacturing environments as well. Deloitte recently partnered with Verizon Business to transform manufacturers into “realtime enterprises” with realtime intelligence by integrating 5G, MEC, computer vision, and AI with cloud and advanced networking. The companies are co-developing a smart factory solution at Verizon’s Customer Technology Center in Richardson, Texas, that will use computer vision and sensor-based detection coupled with MEC to identify and predict quality defects on the assembly line and automatically alert plant engineering and management.

Here is another big change that will have a direct impact on manufacturers: In contrast to past generations of wireless, 5G cellular and Wi-Fi 6 networks can be interoperate with one another, improving the ability to track products on the assembly line and synch production systems and machinery. 5G is also capable of delivering low-latency communication to drive human-robot interactions, offering manufacturers the opportunity to replace wired ethernet connections.

The timing might be right. If Deloitte’s prediction from last summer holds true, 86% of networking executives surveyed believe that advanced wireless will transform their organization within three years, and 79% say the same about their industry. This lines up pretty well with PwC’s prediction that 5G will hit a tipping point in 2023.

5G Breaks Down Digital Divide

The opportunities for 5G are really endless, as I like to say. At the onset of this blog series, I asked the question: Can this help us end poverty, inequality, water shortages, hunger, you name it? I believe the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Here is what I think is really exciting: 5G can help close the digital divide. According to Cisco 2020 Inclusive Future Report, an internet connection is affordable in only 29 of the world’s 195 countries. As the pandemic has raged on, this very challenge has been brought to light more often. Those with connectivity have been able to continue to work, play, and learn—and those without it haven’t. This is where 5G and Wi-Fi 6 can make a true difference in our world. It can bring connectivity to places that haven’t been reached in the past.

Let’s look at how this might work. MuralNet a nonprofit Cisco partner that is using wireless solutions to close the digital divide on Native reservations. MuralNet and Cisco have partnered to open unused FCC spectrum for rural regions. Recently, they announced a Sustainable Tribal Networks program, which has enabled more than 300 tribes to take advantage of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz range. And this is only one example. Cisco also is working with governments and rural development funds around the world.

We need to be focusing our efforts on how we might tap into connectivity to solve these problems for future generations. The time is now to be more sustainable and to act to change for the future now.

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