Understanding and deploying the right technologies at the right time is pivotal to being successful in business today. From AI (artificial intelligence) and automation to line of business applications, there is no shortage of technologies that could have a profound, positive impact on an organization.
Deciphering which ones are right for your business and when to deploy them is no easy task. Embrace a killer technology too early and you waste time and money with little meaningful results. Conversely, move too late and you may have missed out on a competitive edge. Few know the challenge of getting in at the right point of a technology hype cycle better than those in the IoT (Internet of Things) sector—where the buzz outpaced the reality of early applications, yet it is already plateauing in many markets.
5G is facing a similar hype cycle at the moment. The excitement is well deserved: 5G provides 10-100 times the bandwidth of 4G-LTE, which could be a considerable improvement for applications that require transmission of large amounts of data. It also has very small latency, in the order of milliseconds. In practical terms, it means hours of video can be downloaded in seconds instead of hours and the lag time from when you click a button to when an action happens on a device would become almost nonexistent.
But is 5G truly ready for primetime? The wow factor is there, but is the business value?
Understanding Key 5G Use Cases
The answer to those questions lies, in part, in understanding the most immediate use cases for 5G in the enterprise.
The first is fixed internet connectivity. Instead of getting internet connections using satellite, cable, or copper wires/ADSL, edge environments like branch offices or remote sites could potentially use 5G to get fixed internet connectivity without requiring any physical cables or wires. This approach is ideal on the surface, but is not without its issues. The biggest concern is that 5G is too sensitive to be a reliable fixed connectivity option—for example, bad weather or a passing vehicle could affect the connection quality and result users inside a large building to not getting a signal.
The second use case is tied to next-gen applications, which 5G will enable over time. IoT, as well as AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality), autonomous vehicles and advanced robotics, among other emerging applications, generate tremendous amounts of disposable data that requires extremely tight response times to be effective. 5G could solve a major headache for service providers, who are currently scrambling to deploy edge data centers to support those applications with fast, low-latency, last-mile connections that bring compute power closer to the end user. But this use case is stifled by the nagging question of whether 5G roll-out is slow because adoption of those applications is slow, or the other way around.
The Impact on Service Providers & Enterprises
The time for service providers to act starts now. Those offering services that can benefit from the speed and low latency of 5G can start their 5G journeys by testing the technology, as trials are being rolled out in some areas. It’s important to make sure the management plane is robust enough to ensure availability, as 5G will undoubtedly provide the fat, fast pipes for the data plane. With edge infrastructure growing in complexity, strong remote management capabilities will be a differentiator when it comes to providing a good user experience and a critical component of ensuring continual availability.
On the enterprise side, it is probably still too early to dive into 5G. The focus today should be on understanding the technology at a high level and identifying the use cases that are likely to benefit the business first so the business can act on the areas of greatest interest at the right moment. The exception to that general rule is if there are already specific applications that are limited by speed/latency of existing connectivity technologies.