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Get Ready: 5G Is Coming

It’s a 5G evolution that will certainly impact business and it has been a journey in the making. Many of you reading this column might very well remember when I encouraged the industry to prepare for the sunset of 2G. In fact, I noted the dawn of 4G LTE connectivity brings with it new possibilities for connectivity and the introduction of any disruptive technology inherently displaces previous technologies. The widespread demand for 4G ushered in the decline of 2G and 3G connectivity.

4G mobile communication technology first launched in late 2009—and some U.S. cities had 4G capacity in full swing in April 2010. For the next decade, 4G helped people around the world to manage both work and home. So, what comes next is 5G, which will account for two-thirds of total mobile connections across North America by 2025—the equivalent of almost 280 million connections.

At the same time mobile technologies and services generated 4.2% of GDP in North America in 2021 and supported more than 2.2 million jobs—directly and indirectly. All this data is according to the new GSMA report titled The Mobile Economy North America 2022.

This information comes on the heels of the 2021 U.S. infrastructure bill, which allocates about $65 billion in federal funding toward expanding broadband access and 5G connectivity nationwide. Similarly, in Canada, the government has established the Universal Broadband Fund, which allocates 2.75 billion Canadian dollars—or the equivalent of 2.1 billion U.S. dollars. The objective here is to bring high-speed projects to underserved areas and improve connectivity in a post-pandemic era. Still, the reality is mobile revenue is facing pressure from macroeconomic challenges such as inflation.

For businesses, my prediction is that we will see 5G proliferate in the next decade, and that the pace of change in industry—such as the manufacturing sector—will continue to pick up, as it has been in the past decade. Let’s take a closer look at what this means within the industries overall.

The Impact on the Enterprise

The GSMA report suggests while the consumer market has been the focus of early 5G deployments, the enterprise segment is the largest incremental opportunity in the 5G era. As such, operators are building new capabilities and partnerships in a range of areas. Private networks are gaining significant attention.

As one example, AT&T is working with Microsoft on a private 5G solution, which integrates AT&T’s 5G network with Azure’s private-edge capabilities. While this is still in the proof-of-concept phase, it will focus on providing an integrated offering to help businesses set up and run private networks more quickly. Another example, Verizon has announced the launch of On Site 5G and Google unveiled its private 5G network solution this past June.

In addition to the tech companies, utility companies, such as Southern California Edison, Sempra Energy, and Alabama Power acquired priority access licenses in the CBRS auction to build private networks for smart-grid applications.

As this all begins to rollout, 5G can offer new opportunities for the enterprise. We just might even see the rise of the metaverse ecosystem. While the early stages are primarily in gaming, other verticals could benefit from the metaverse. Consider the example of retail. We could see virtual stores, NFTs, personalized and immersive marketing, product demos, and so much more.

To accomplish these goals, we need the network (5G), access (apps, AR/VR/XR), and virtual elements (economic elements, avatars, and graphics). Large technologies companies are taking the necessary steps today to enable the metaverse. As 5G becomes more pervasive, so too will the metaverse.

The Rise of the Edge

At the same time, edge computing will make its mark in the world of the 5G enterprise. The GSMA report suggests the full power of edge computing will not be realized until 5G SA (standalone) networks are more widely deployed. These networks will be able to deliver ultra-low-latency requirements of many industrial clients. These SA networks are still in the minority globally, but there is momentum.

The top benefits of SA in North America include massive machine-type communications support; ultra-reliable, low-latency communications support; network cost optimization; simplified network architecture; and network slicing capabilities, according to the GSMA Intelligence Operators in Focus: Network Transformation Survey 2021.

Sustainability in Telco

One of my biggest takeaways from the report was the few pages that focused on how sustainability has moved to the top of the agenda for telcos. Many of the mobile operators in the U.S.—including AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile—have committed to ambitious net-zero targets and have taken the steps to reduce carbon emissions in their operations and across the supply chain.

Consider the 2021 announcement, AT&T’s Gigaton Goal to deliver connectivity solutions that enable business customers to cumulatively save a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions. To do this, it has worked with tech companies, customers, universities, and nonprofits to identify best practices, develop new products, use cases, and scale the innovations of startup partners.

The message here is that partnerships are key for mobile operators to improve their energy efficiency and reduce operator emissions, while enabling the transition to a net-zero world.

All in all, we are seeing the rise of 5G—and it will have a lasting impact on the enterprise. What are you seeing in your vertical space?

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