Ready for 5G?
A new generation of wireless is rolling out, and the vision is that any device of any significant value will not only be connected to the Internet, but continuously monitored as part of an Internet of Things comprising everything from self-driving cars to industrial machines to household appliances.
And, of course, your smartphone, which in many cases will be your access point to all things.
How’s this going to affect your business? Before answering that, here are answers to a few other questions that may help you understand how, and not if, 5G will play a fundamental role not just in how we work, but how we live day-to-day.
Wasn’t It Just a Few Years Ago That 4G Rolled Out?
Right. 4G (“G” stands for generation), while available in the U.S. since 2008, first started to roll out more widely in 2011 as mobile carriers upgraded their networks to accommodate data speeds up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps), compared to the previous generation where speeds could be as slow as 3.84 Mbps.
Five years may not seem like so long ago, but in Internet time it is a millennium.
However, as SearchMobileComputing.com notes, “From the consumer's point of view, 4G is more a marketing term than a technical specification, but carriers feel justified in using the 4G label because it lets the consumer know that he can expect significantly faster data speeds.”
Related Article: Speed of Light: What Will a 5G World Look Like?
While a 4G network is theoretically capable of delivering speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G, in actual practice most users won’t experience anything near that for a variety of technical reasons. In some circumstances, it could even actually be slower.
According to Ed Robinson of Riverbed Technology, “In the real world, a 4G network delivers maybe three to five Mbps, and 3G networks two to three Mbps.
This is due to distance from the cell tower, interference from walls and objects, and people moving while using their device. Real world things.”
So, Is This 5G Thing All Hype as Well?
Yes and no. The Economist notes that there is still discussion about standards among wireless carriers and telecommunications firms, all of which have their own self-interest to advocate:
“However, the hope burns bright that, unlike previous generations of mobile technology, 5G will be a true global standard, allowing travelers to use their personal phones anywhere in the world, without the hassle of having to swap their SIM cards for local ones bought on arrival.”
Moreover, 5G promises significant improvements in “latency” (i.e., responsiveness) of about one millisecond, compared to 50 milliseconds for 4G and 500 milliseconds on 3G.
A bump in the data rate from 10 to 100 megabits on the current networks to at least a gigabyte at first is also expected.
What Do I Care About a Few Milliseconds or Gigabytes?
Remember when people bought mobile phones just to talk? Remember when not everyone even had a mobile phone?
Today, nobody talks on their phones as much as they text, send videos, watch television shows and movies, shop online, and update their Facebook page.
Rising data usage requires faster and more capable networks to transmit it. As does the increasing number of people using mobile devices.
In 2010 in the U.S. alone there were some 62 million users, compared to some 190 million in 2015, with nearly 250 million projected by 2019 (and two billion worldwide).
As CNET writer Roger Cheng points out, the potential of 5G is that, ”The increased speed and responsiveness may supercharge today's emerging tech trends: the Internet of Things, or the idea that everyday objects like your refrigerator or bed can talk to each other; self-driving cars; and virtual reality, which employs super sharp imagery to place you in another world.”
When Can We Expect 5G to Arrive?
AT&T has already announced field trials of 5G in Austin by summer of this year. While some carriers are projecting preliminary rollouts as early as 2017, most likely in high-density urban areas, widespread worldwide availability is more likely (some would say optimistically) around 2020.
And Why Do I Need to Think About This Now?
Well, it needn’t be on top of your list, but it is something to think about getting ready for. As Slate senior technology writer Will Oremus points out, “5G technology [...] won’t just mean faster downloads on your phone. It will enable a whole new class of connected devices, including wearables, household gadgets, and industrial sensors.”
This Internet of Things connectivity is also an essential technology for the future of self-driving cars, where near instant handling of data is absolutely essential to passenger safety.
I’m Not in the Automotive Industry, So Why Exactly Is This Going to Affect My Business?
Because, as Erricsson CEO Hans Vestberg points out, “2G, 3G and 4G were designed for consumers, with better throughput and higher speeds. 5G is designed for the industrial Internet.”
Here’s how that could affect your business:
- Wider acceptance of mobile payment systems. If you don’t accept them now, soon you won’t have much choice.
- Real-time sensing of manufacturing processes with the ability to make instant adjustments to improve productivity and efficiency. Even if you aren’t manufacturing your product, you can easily monitor those who do. And make changes directly without going through an intermediary.
- Video streaming and virtual reality as marketing tools. Provide a high-quality, hands-on product demo or sales pitch anywhere, anytime, at a moment’s notice. No need to leave your office!
- Worldwide, standardized coverage. T3's David Nield notes that means “blanket coverage that stays with you and doesn't drop out as you move, in theory, that should mean very few dead spots, no matter where in the world you are. Satellite technology may be incorporated to help increase coverage.” International markets become more accessible with even greater connectivity.
- Even higher expectations. If you get annoyed now that your text or email hasn’t been answered in, say, five minutes, it’s going to get even worse when 5G data speeds become commonplace. Customer responsiveness becomes even more “mission critical” than it already is.
- If you aren’t based somewhere that has access to a 5G network, you may need to move to somewhere that does. Because if your competitors are taking advantage of these new functionalities, you’d better as well.
And You’ll Need New Stuff to Do All This
Perhaps the biggest effect on your bottom line will be the need to buy new equipment that is 5G-capable and compatible.
For example, CCS Insight predicts the number of virtual reality devices will grow from 2.2 million last year to 20 million in 2018, with smartphone-based devices representing the vast majority. Your 4G device simply isn’t going to be cut it.
The good news is that right now you needn’t feel as if you have to wait to buy new equipment. In fact, what you buy today will probably approach the end of its life cycle about the time 5G starts to arrive.
But as widespread deployment gets closer, that’s going to be more of a consideration. For now though, the future of 5G is just in the “wait and see” stage.