It’s been said repeatedly that 5G is one of the biggest market opportunities in the next decade, but an unclear roadmap has been a hurdle up to this point. Is this still the case going into 2021? At CES, 2021 was heralded as the year of transition from readiness and availability of 5G. But, then again, 2020 was predicted by many to be the year of 5G, but now that the year is over, it’s safe to say 2020 will be known for other things. New research provides a glimpse into how business technology decisionmakers and their companies are positioned toward 5G in the wake of all that happened in 2020.

The latest Verizon 5G Business Report suggests business technology decisionmakers are more confident in 5G and poised to take advantage of it than ever before. Among Verizon’s 700 survey participants, which represent sectors like manufacturing, retail, healthcare, and government, about 80% say they consider 5G to be a critical component of their organizations’ growth heading into 2021, and 79% say it will create new opportunities in their industries. More than half (55%) say they’ve seen, read, or heard a lot about 5G, and 48% say their organizations have already provided or plan to provide 5G-capable devices to employees within the next six months. About half (54%) also say 5G planning and adoption is a top priority for IT leaders, while 39% say it’s a priority for the C-suite at their organizations.

By sector, 78% of respondents in healthcare said 5G will change how their organizations interact with customers, and operational efficiency was the top area of predicted impact. In manufacturing, 5G’s ability to support system automation ranked the highest among potential use cases. In the public sector, 36% said they foresee 5G having a “transformational” impact on cybersecurity. And in retail, 77% of decisionmakers said businesses in their sector that fail to adopt 5G will be at a distinct disadvantage.

Overall, decisionmakers ranked areas of anticipated transformation as a result of 5G as follows: cybersecurity, operational efficiency, employee productivity, employee collaboration and communication, innovation opportunities, customer experiences, and employee mobility, followed by business intelligence and analytics, business growth, automation of processes and operations, and new product and service offerings. Top barriers to 5G adoption in this data set included high upfront costs (41%), security or compliance concerns (27%), compatibility concerns (25%), and uncertainty about ROI (return on investment) (22%). A weak business case for 5G resonated with just 10% of business technology decisionmakers.

The faster speeds and reduced latency that 5G promises to deliver will help bring businesses into the post-COVID era. In fact, a majority of decisionmakers (69%) see access to 5G technology as a sort of “saving grace” that could potentially or will definitely accelerate their organizations’ recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. About one in three (33%) strongly agreed that this will be true for their organizations, and 36% somewhat agreed.

While it’s not clear yet what a post-COVID era will entail, we can expect that certain general trends that were building pre-pandemic, like automation, plus new trends that have come about because of the pandemic, like the massive shift to remote work, will make the business case for 5G clearer and clearer as time goes on. And, perhaps, as Verizon’s report suggests, for many business technology decisionmakers, it’s already crystal clear. Perhaps, finally, the timing is right.

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