After a long period of hype, 5G cellular networking technology is on the cusp of becoming a reality. Major carriers as well as smart phone manufacturers are already advertising their consumer-oriented 5G offerings, and 5G service will be available in several major metropolitan areas before the year is out. While the consumer roll-out of 5G will certainly gain the lion’s share of attention, 5G may prove to be even more important to the enterprise market.
The key to 5G’s enterprise adoption lies in the opportunity for monetization. Like any new technology, 5G not only needs to demonstrate innovative capabilities, it must also deliver business value. Currently, these ROI opportunities lie across verticals and networks themselves, both of which should spur focused initiatives.
The first is in the industrial sector, where 5G’s latency of less than one millisecond and data rates of up to 1 gbps will support productivity initiatives that will impact the bottom line.
Robotics, with robots or co-bots can work on precision tasks or in difficult environments together with humans to increase their productivity. But to accurately sense, manipulate and act upon items in production, robots need a network which allows them to be always connected and with very low latency, which could be met by 5G.
Another area of interest is augmented reality (AR). Technicians wearing specially equipped glasses can call up data and instructions that are superimposed onto their view of complex equipment to help them understand and execute maintenance or repairs. This type of AR requires bandwidth that only 5G networks can provide.
The connected healthcare space is equally interesting and challenging. The whole idea of a doctor being able to examine a patient remotely is game changing. Precious time saved in reaching a hospital, saving the inconvenience involved for those suffering restricted movement and access to the specialists anywhere in the world are all very appealing – let alone remote surgery or administration of medicine and the whole gamut of patient care. But this depends on remote sensing without lag – which requires ultra high bandwidth and low latency available only with 5G.
The second set of opportunities is more horizontal. It centers around 5G’s network slicing capability, which is not available in 4G networks. Network slicing enables multiple users (tenants) with very different requirements to multiplex over a single physical network on an end-to-end basis. This means operators could lease capacity to a variety of business customers. A municipality, for example, could obtain a long-term lease to carry IoT traffic associated with a smart city implementation, while a sports franchise might lease capacity only for specific events.
In addition to raw bandwidth, operators may bundle other services beyond simple delivery into their offerings to provide added value or to target sectors with specific requirements such as healthcare. It will be possible for companies to create their own private 5G networks. Taking advantage of this fact, the technology giants may well become their own network operators with business models similar to today’s public clouds.
Gaining a competitive edge
There is no doubt that 5G will have a game-changing impact for operators and enterprises alike. However, there is still lots of uncertainty about exactly what 5G can bring to the table. For example, many are unclear about how 5G network slicing is superior to the QoS capabilities of 4G. (5G can multiplex by customer, not just signal characteristics.)
This is only one example of how 5G needs to be demystified. Companies must develop use cases, calculate ROI, develop PoCs and validate their solutions. In summary, companies want to profit from its potential need to invest in educating themselves about the details of 5G technology now, so that when 5G arrives, they can hit the ground running.