Every past generation of cellular mobile communications has delivered lower latency and greater cost efficiency. It’s clear that this alone wasn’t going to be enough for 5G, yet for some time the industry wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. The primary reason was market confusion: Until standards were formalized at the end of 2017, any pilots or trials were basically just proprietary at best.
Supporting this were results of a late 2017 Ericsson survey we released. According to 1,000 c-level executives from 10 industries, 62 percent said a major obstacle to 5G adoption was that it was too soon to know what the actual benefits would be.
When an answer isn’t known, speculation and hype ensues.
In some ways, you could say 5G was living in its own shadow, but now it’s stepping out. Standards are set and the industry is on the same page. Yes, developments will leverage existing 4G LTE networks in some ways - they’re advanced, in wide use and can be easily boosted with software. And after all, generations always overlap to some degree; you don’t just shut down one and turn on the next.
That said, 2019 will see the first commercialized 5G networks. They’ll bring high data rates, reduced energy use, lower latency, greater efficiencies. Newfound bandwidth will be driven by huge pipes and incredible speed. Most importantly, though, 5G will offer an intelligent connectivity platform, one that will be harnessed by enterprises and a slew of industries that’ll introduce a range of use cases.
A path to opportunity
Commercial 5G networks are now live, and as opposed to a past focus on consumer and personal communications, they’ll serve enterprises and the “Industry 4.0.” Players in these realms will use the fast, smart connectivity to take the Internet of Things (IoT) to greater heights and open up new possibilities.
The IoT market, historically divided into two segments, is changing and growing. Until now, there was massive IoT, which relates to very large numbers of devices that don’t need priority communications such as meters used for measuring water usage. These don’t consume much bandwidth and they can gather up data and send it every once and a while because there’s no real-time need for the data.
5G can manage it easily.
Then there’s critical IoT, necessary for applications like autonomous cars or real-time monitoring. This involves immediate “decision-making,” so you can’t have latency. 5G’s super-fast connectivity and reliability are a perfect match.
Now, with 5G moving into more commercial markets, we’re seeing two additional segments developing: broadband IoT and industrial automation IoT.
Broadband IoT requires a specific functionality that allows for things like increased coverage or battery life. Industries that rely on devices ranging from drones to advanced wearables - and there are many - need these attributes.
Manufacturing is where industrial automation IoT fits. Connectivity requirements are demanding, accuracy is essential and there are architecture and security concerns. This is the Industry 4.0, it’s all about digitalization, and private cellular networks are an answer for the world’s manufacturers.
5G is the solution for all and more. In the year ahead, you’ll see it increasingly provide a path for burgeoning applications.
The road ahead
Without 5G, many new products and services being planned wouldn’t be possible. From connected devices throughout the smart home to augmented and virtual reality applications, you need the pipes.
In the near term, you’ll see 5G become a vital capacity enhancer in metro areas. This will allow operators to handle tremendous volumes of traffic with more sophisticated mobile broadband and fixed wireless access.
Looking down the road, those tier-one operators pioneering 5G commercialization in 2019 will likely offer pure standalone 5G networks in 2020. Keep an eye on them, because this will provide a strong foundation to accommodate future advancements and position them as carriers-of-choice.
5G will also prompt telecom providers and enterprises to change their business models. Operators can add value beyond connectivity by beginning to manage the full lifecycle of connected devices and the rapidly increasing amount of data being generated, for example. For enterprises, 5G will lead to greater product and service innovation, which means additional offerings and revenue streams.
5G networks are up-and-running in the U.S. The technology has been used with commercial equipment in deployments in Europe, Australia and Asia. Our company alone has contracts with more than a dozen service providers and memorandums of understanding with 40 operators.
Yet, even as 5G has become a reality, the industry’s still taking baby steps.
A recent Accenture survey of close to 2,000 global tech and business executives show many still underestimate 5G. Roughly three-quarters of respondents felt they needed help imagining the possibilities and use cases. Just over 50 percent believe there are “very few” things 5G will allow that 4G doesn’t. And just when there’s good news for telecoms - 40 percent stating they’re the partners of choice for these endeavors - 60 percent add service providers lack knowledge in areas like innovating with 5G.
Just over a year ago, the industry wasn’t entirely sure if 5G would live up to its expectations. Now, when it’s finally clear that it has found its stride, there remains some teething issues.
Make no mistake, developments in the year ahead will be fast-paced and will reveal exciting new directions for businesses, enterprises and telecom providers alike. 5G is off-and-running, and if you’re holding back on moving ahead, it’s time to pick up the pace or be left behind.