Hold the Hype? A Reality Check on the 5G Business Case
by Blogs & Opinions
5G is among the most buzzed about technologies of the year. A quick news search produces more than 275 million news results on the subject -- many of them promising better pricing, higher speeds and other transformational benefits.
And in many ways, all the hype is warranted: 5G offers up to 100 times the bandwidth of today's 4G-LTE, which is important for applications that require transmission of large amounts of data, while at the same time having a latency in the order of mere milliseconds. This means on a 5G cellular network you could download hours of videos in a few seconds and video gamers would benefit from almost no lag between moving their thumb and a character changing directions on screen.
For the average consumer, the benefits of 5G become available as soon as their new phone supports it and the carrier provides service in their area. For enterprises managing edge computing and cloud data management, however, the case is a bit more complex. It warrants looking beyond the hype to consider the real business impact.
Understanding and deploying the right technologies at the right time to meet business needs is critical to an organization's success. But the dependencies between 5G adoption and other technologies such as IoT, AI, Process Automation, etc. can make it difficult to cut through the hype to understand which technologies are not only innovative but also impactful. Every business has their core IT infrastructure and line of business applications, but there is always opportunity to operate more efficiently thanks to constantly improving technologies. Once you can determine which of those technologies matter most to the business, the next hurdle becomes identifying the right moment to get on board. Move too early and you spend resources with no meaningful results to show; move too late and you risk falling behind.
With 5G specifically, determining the right time to act requires understanding the most immediate use cases for 5G in the enterprise. The first is fixed Internet connectivity. Instead of getting Internet connections using cable, satellite or copper wires/ADSL, edge locations could potentially use 5G to get fixed Internet connectivity. Because this eliminates the need for burdensome physical cables and wires, 5G is ideal on the surface. However, in practice, 5G remains too sensitive to be a reliable fixed connectivity option -- for example, common occurrences like rain or a large truck passing a building could affect the connection quality and cause users inside to lose signal.
The other, longer-term use case for 5G is enabling next-gen applications. These new applications -- from autonomous vehicles and AR/VR to advanced robotics and other applications -- generate huge amounts of disposable data that requires extremely tight response times. Today, service providers are scrambling to deploy edge data centers fast enough to support those data-heavy needs -- a challenge that 5G could solve by making fast, low-latency, last-mile connections and bringing compute power closer to the end user. But the underlying delay there comes down to a classic chicken-egg scenario: Is 5G roll-out slow because adoption of those applications is slow, or the other way around?
It is probably still too early for enterprises to fully embrace 5G. Unless there are already specific applications that are limited by speed/latency of existing connectivity technologies, the value of deploying it will not yet be realized. Instead, the focus for now should be on gaining knowledge about the technology at a high level and identifying the use cases that are likely to benefit the business most so that they can be prioritized when 5G becomes available. This will allow the business to be ready to act at the right moment -- not too soon or too late.
The time for service providers to act is sooner rather than later. As 5G trials start being rolled out in some markets, those offering services that can benefit from the speed and low latency of 5G should start testing the technology now. 5G will provide wide, fast pipes for the data plane, and it's critical to make sure the management plane is robust enough to ensure availability. With edge infrastructure growing in complexity, having strong remote management capabilities to ensure availability and reliability is necessary to deliver a good user experience.
While the right time to act will vary for every business, the time to identify specific opportunities for 5G and start testing it is now. 5G is going to live up to much of its hype over time and the businesses that deploy at the ideal time for their needs will see tremendous market advantage.