5G

The 5G revolution: 3 things business leaders need to know

A panel of experts at CES 2018 discussed 5G's impact on next-gen tech like cloud computing and self-driving cars.

One of the largest shifts in technology is due to come with the adoption and proliferation of 5G mobile connectivity. The 5G standard promises more bandwidth, lower latency, and faster speeds, impacting both consumers and businesses alike.

5G technologies were heavily hyped at the 2017 CES in Las Vegas, and the 2018 show was no different. As part of a panel titled Mobile Innovation: How 5G will Enable the Future, leaders from Baidu, Qualcomm, and Verizon shared some of the biggest takeaways of what the coming changes to connectivity will mean for society.

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Here are three key takeaways from that panel, and what business leaders need to know about them.

1. 5G adoption won't be immediate

The number of connected mobile devices in the world surpassed the number of human beings all the way back in 2014. So, needless to say, it won't be a walk in the park to get all of those devices and users onto the 5G standard.

Verizon CTO Hans Vestberg said that the transition will happen in time, but that 5G will exist alongside 4G for quite a while. Technologies like Gigabit LTE, however, are helping to provide a foundation for 5G and will bridge the gap between the generations, according to Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon.

The official worldwide 5G standards were approved in December 2017, but there is still a lot of work to be done on behalf of cities, device manufacturers, and the carriers themselves. Vestberg said that Verizon is aiming to make it into 3-5 markets this year with residential broadband built on the millimeter wave spectrum. Rival AT&T has also claimed that it will have real 5G in 12 markets by the end of the year as well.

Baidu COO Qi Lu said that his company is currently working with the Chinese government to build out infrastructure and policies to assist and enable 5G deployments.

2. Low latency is the real value of 5G

While almost all users will experience faster internet speeds, the real business value of 5G is its low latency. According to Amon, it could even lead to less expensive smartphones.

The latency standard for 5G connectivity is around 1 ms, Amon said, which is roughly a 30x improvement over current 4G latency, he added. This kind of improvement will make cloud computing more useful, and will unlock a host of new computing capabilities.

By making the cloud more reliable, users will increasingly turn to it for storage, Amon said, thereby lowering the on-board storage requirements for new devices, and cutting costs. This will also bring more IT infrastructure, including mission critical apps, to the cloud as response time will be virtually the same as on-premises, Amon said.

Lu, whose firm works heavily in artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles, said that low latency is the key to better performance, improved safety, and stronger mapping in autonomous vehicles. The low latency in 5G can also enable the growth of edge computing, which Lu called "the new mobile."

3. 5G will require new infrastructure, technologies

As Vestberg explained in the panel, 2G, 3G, and 4G were primarily seen as consumer-focused upgrades. 5G, on the other hand, takes businesses into account regarding its featureset. But unlocking those features and taking full advantage of 5G will require enabling new technologies.

For starters, carriers still have to figure out how they're going to deliver the service. Amon said he believes that the industry will move toward millimeter wave technology and frequencies in the sub-6 GHz spectrum. Indeed, many early 5G experiments use millimeter wave, which Vestberg said has a short range but tremendous throughput.

Of course, there's also the question of getting it to the customer. Fiber optic cable will be necessary to carry the data, while devices will likely need new antennae, chips, and applications to utilize it. In terms of the final delivery step, Amon said that he believes most of the industry is actually moving to last-mile wireless solutions to deliver 5G.

What do businesses need to consider?

Smartphones have been an essential part of every business for a long time, and industry leaders need to think about the new capabilities that will be enabled by 5G and how they can leverage them, Amon said.

The amount of data available to businesses will also increase tremendously with 5G adoption, Amon noted, and companies need to consider machine learning and cloud solutions for collecting and processing it. Lu also touched on AI technologies, saying that 5G will empower more use cases. He called on company leaders to re-orient their digital transformation strategy for the coming of 5G.

In terms of latency, Vestberg said that 5G will allow businesses to get closer to customers and their employees with real-time communication for customer service and meetings. This could fundamentally change communications in and out of the office, and leaders must be ready for it.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/jamesteohart

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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