Why the road to 5G might be longer than expected

While the 5G hype rings loud in the enterprise, less than 2% of devices will be 5G enabled next year, according to PwC.

5G cybersecurity concerns and physical challenges: What you need to know Dan Patterson discusses how 5G will enable IoT, AR, VR, 3D renderings, and more. He also talks about the numerous cybersecurity concerns with 5G.

Excitement around 5G pervades the enterprise, with many expecting an imminent rollout of the new wave technology. However, these expectations are proving to be more hopeful than accurate, according to PwC's recent US 5G mobile index.

The report analyzed 5G deployment data, announcements, and maps, along with device announcements and sales data as of early July 2019. While the hype around 5G remains strong, the report reveals a different reality—one filled with roadblocks and challenges. 

SEE: 5G mobile networks: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

As of July 1, 2019, less than 1% of the US population has 5G coverage available at their business or home, and less than 0.5% of mobile devices in use are 5G-enabled, the report found. Looking ahead six months to January 2020, less than 10% of the US population will have access to 5G network coverage, and less than 2% of devices will be 5G enabled, the report revealed. 

While 5G networking does exist, the rollout appears to be much slower than the public would like to admit, the report found. 

"From a consumer's perspective, there will certainly be a transition period," Mark McCaffrey, PwC's US technology, media, and telecommunications leader, told TechRepublic. "We won't simply go from 4G/LTE to 5G overnight and a 5G network won't necessarily be maximized with a device meant for 4G. And as 5G is a new technology, we can expect there to be bugs and glitches that need to be worked out along the way." 

The roadblocks

Creating a 5G network comes with a whole new set of roadblocks that didn't exist when creating 4G, according to the report. This higher density network brings regulatory, cost, and operational challenges. 

"The biggest hurdles to 5G are simply logistical ones. To get to the point of widespread adoption on any scale, we must solve regulatory and infrastructure issues," said McCaffrey. "Each federal, state and local community may have unique requirements in its deployment of 5G. All carriers and equipment manufacturers will need to develop their own path to 5G deployment that meets the regulatory requirements including cybersecurity."  

5G implementation also requires hundreds of thousands of small cells to be installed across the country, which calls for large bands of spectrum that aren't yet available, the report found. 

While 5G will undoubtedly hold value in the long-term, the few short-term benefits may not be worth the initial cost of deployment, especially in less populated areas, McCaffrey said. 

The real future of 5G

The future of 5G is a longer road than consumers and investors alike expect or want, the report found. However, the long-term benefits of 5G do make investing in the tech worthwhile, if the investor has both the means and flexibility. 

This new era of connectivity will change the way businesses approach foundational operations, and could even fix long-standing problems or unforeseeable future issues, McCaffrey said.

"The technology is a crucial one to invest in and the organizations that do so in the right way will be the ones who lead their respective industries forward," McCaffrey added. "However, from a timing perspective, we certainly need to realign our expectations."

For more, check out 5G cybersecurity concerns and physical challenges: What you need to know on TechRepublic.  

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By Macy Bayern

Macy Bayern is an Associate Staff Writer for TechRepublic. A recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Macy covers tech news and trends.