The Ultimate 5G Explainer:
The untold story

We all remember the big tech leaps in our lives. TV. Dial-up internet. Facebook. The iPhone.
Well, 5G, the next big leap in mobile networks, is as exciting as any of these. It’s a huge opportunity for the businesses that understand its potential early—and move first—to change the way you work, collaborate, innovate and serve customers.

And why the biggest winners will be the businesses that move first.*

 Scroll down (and buckle up)

When 5G arrives, the Internet of Things will take off. Streaming media will feel more like a fire hose. And robots, autonomous vehicles and immersive virtual reality (VR) simulations will become core features of many businesses.

In no uncertain terms:

5G will change the way business does business.

But most people still think of 5G as just a faster version of 4G. That’s true – but it isn’t the whole truth. In fact, 5G will deliver dramatic improvements in latency, speed, coverage, capacity and density.

And the even bigger news (that only a few people are talking about) is this: 5G will be the first generation of cellular network that can be configured for specific needs and use cases.

That’s the real opportunity for businesses: to use networks in ways that weren’t possible before.

We’ve made this explainer to show you 5G’s big leaps. Because once you understand exactly what 5G will change for businesses – and see the tech behind the hype – you’ll have an invaluable edge.

You’ll know how the world is going to change before it happens.

You’ll know how your business can win in a 5G world – and how to turn an order-of-magnitude improvement in cellular networks into an order-of-magnitude improvement in your business.

Grab a cup of something. This is important.

The Big Leaps

Latency

How close are we to real-time?

Speed

What’s possible when everything is ten times faster?

Coverage

How will 5G reach every user, device and sensor?

Capacity

What can you do with dramatically more capacity?

Density

What happens when everything is connected?

Let’s get going, one at a time…

Section 1 of 5

Latency

How close are we to real-time?

Latency

For any user on any network, there’s always a small lag – it’s usually too small to notice. For a video call, a sub-50 millisecond lag makes the call feel natural.

 

For other applications – like when you need actual, physical, ‘touch-like’ feedback – a 50-millisecond lag is an eternity.

A building collapses. It’s too dangerous to send in the rescuers but there may still be survivors under the rubble. You send in a robot – but it needs super-sensitive remote control that gives its operator instant feedback in as close to real time as possible. At times like this, latency can be a life-or-death issue.

That’s where 5G is aiming – remote feedback that feels like you’re actually there.

The 5G glossary Tactile internet use cases like this can be force multipliers. But even more broadly, the businesses that are first-to-market with ultra-low latency use cases in construction and manufacturing will transform these industries overnight.

Latency

1.2 How low can latency go?

Will we ever reach zero latency?

Short answer: no. Not without exceeding the speed of light.

 

But we can get a lot closer to what feels like real time – somewhere around 20-millisecond latency. And this will enable some important use cases.

The classic example: remote surgery. If the world’s best heart surgeon is in Chicago and her patient is in Cleveland, could she remotely control a robot to conduct an emergency surgery? Could she actually feel what’s going on and respond instantly to changes?

That demands feedback between the robot and her brain that feels as fast as the feedback between her hands and her brain (something called Haptic feedback).

5G is bringing that possibility closer. The result: your best people will be able to extend their capabilities to new places and new customers a lot faster.


Core Network Virtualization
Find out how networks are evolving to make 5G-powered low-latency possible.

Dive in

1.3 Realistic goals

Let’s get real

Some theorists talk about latency as low as one and two milliseconds. That’s possible – but usually only in controlled experiments.


20 milliseconds should be enough for the use cases we’ve talked about because that’s near the limit of human perception.

The question is: What could your business do if latency wasn’t an issue?

Here’s a few use cases in the panel below.

5G’s goal

Approaching real-time

4G Today
60ms

5G In the next 10 years
2ms

Latency

Watch the Okay, But How? Show

Join Dr. Shini Somara as she gets her geek on, looking at how 5G will make low latency possible

Section 2 of 5

Speed

What’s possible when the network is ten times faster?

Speed

Think about the sheer volume of data we’ll need to make the most ambitious new technologies possible.

 

Simulations will use VR experiences and UHD video (4K and eventually 8K). Robotic Process Automation will produce detailed reports from thousands of sensors – about the status, location, orientation and environment of devices. Managers of autonomous fleets will quickly access huge amounts of near-real-time data, using AI and software to optimize their routes.

These are enormous amounts of data – and it’s all being both consumed and generated by things that move around a lot.

To support these technologies and applications, we’ll need to move data a lot faster. Good news:

5G isn’t just faster than 4G; it’s at least ten times faster.

In some cases, it will even hit an incredible download speed of 2Gbps. (Some people talk about speeds of 20Gbps but that’s theoretical for now.)

Even if you don’t experience that kind of speed all the time, you can expect a 10x leap on average – if you’re used to 10Mbps, expect 100Mbps.

That could have a dramatic effect on application performance and the user or customer experience of your services, while supporting far better content quality. (Users won’t think twice about streaming that massive CAD or video file.)

What business benefits happen when data speeds leap by an order of magnitude? The sky’s the limit. Think real-time applications, smarter autonomous fleets, virtual and augmented reality collaboration … this kind of speed empowers businesses to deliver whole new services.

Think about what your business does for customers today. And then think about what it could do with a 10x uplift in speed.

Would you process more data to deliver a better service? Would you help your engineers respond to more complex issues in the field? Would you deliver bigger files to your customers’ devices?

Speed
Speed

2.2 Why speed matters

Fast forward

Speed changes everything. When 3G arrived, photography transformed from a medium of memories to a medium of communication – with Instagram and Snapchat leading the way.

Video was next. Then augmented, virtual and mixed reality (that combines all three). Few of these were fully anticipated before they arrived.

In short, faster networks deliver new possibilities that we can’t even imagine today. The applications we can already picture are exciting. The ones we can’t yet see? World-changing.


Spectrum
Find out how different kinds of spectrum work – and why they’re key to making 5G possible for businesses.

Let’s go

 

A lot will change as we experience 5G speeds. But the most important question is this:

What’s the most valuable thing your business could do in a world that moves ten times faster?

Check out these possible use cases below.

What happens when?

The Speed/Storage dynamic

If we can stream huge amounts of data in seconds, whenever and wherever we need to, will we ever download anything anymore? Will local storage become obsolete?

Speed

Watch the Okay, But How? Show

Join Dr. Shini Somara as she dives into the weeds of 5G technologies – and what that means for businesses.

Section 3 of 5

Coverage

How will 5G reach everyone, everywhere?

Up until now, network coverage strategies were optimized for one primary use case: people with smartphones, moving around.

 

But in a world where every milk carton, motorcycle, park bench and parking space has a sensor and a transmitter, coverage presents a different range of challenges.

Today, users might experience places – even in cities – where the network doesn’t reach. But imagine you’re running a service that delivers parcels to moving targets – customers who are on the move. What happens when the network can’t reach your vehicles or your customers – even for a moment?    

5G will rise to new coverage challenges by combining new technologies in new ways. Smaller antennae in massive arrays will make a single base station act like many. Beamforming techniques will focus data streams at specific users, tracking them as they move – even bouncing signals off walls to maintain the connection.

The bottom line: the coverage benefits 5G delivers will extend the power of the network to far more users, devices, IoT sensors and connected vehicles.

So think about what happens if your IoT implementation can manage a million more devices than your biggest competitor’s.

On the surface it’s just more sensors. But once you start capturing all that data and feeding it to your algorithm, you’ll be generating better answers to your customers problems faster than you can say ‘network effects’.

Coverage

3.2 The impact of coverage

What happens when every square foot has coverage?

Better coverage means consumers and business users get better, more consistent access to the applications and services they rely on every day.

 

But it also means improving services and processes with new kinds of always-on data. For instance, instead of simply monitoring an isolated fault in one vehicle or piece of equipment, AI algorithms will analyze data collected from the equipment across an entire product line in real time to predict faults before they happen.

Field service, logistics, ride-sharing, delivery services, public safety, social services … they all rely on coverage. So they’ll all get a 5G dividend.

The big question is this – what would your business do with ubiquitous coverage?

Would more sensors in more places enable you to do more powerful analytics? Would a fleet of automated devices enable you to deliver a more valuable service?

Check out the use cases in the next panel.

Coverage

Watch the Okay, But How? Show

Watch Dr. Shini Somara explain how beamforming works – and how that changes networking as we know it.

Section 4 of 5

Capacity

What can you do when bandwidth is no longer a constraint?

Serving a few hundred users with new, connected experiences is a challenge. Serving 50,000 at the same time? Houston, we have a capacity challenge.

 

Imagine a city where augmented reality is a routine way of experiencing the world. Field service engineers use it to get step-by-step instructions. Architects use it to ‘walk’ clients through a not-yet-built school. And consumers use it for multi-player games and immersive movies.

A network serving this city will need enormous capacity (a single, five-minute immersive VR experience can be a 6-10 gigabyte file).

Now consider that a single, five-minute, 360º video can be a 6 gigabyte file.

Now add two-way communications, contextual data collection, and peer-to-peer sharing. Today’s network capacities can’t come close to handling these kinds of volumes.

5G networks can. Partly because they’ll use more spectrum – significantly more than used today.

5G will also use technologies like Massive MIMO to use all this new spectrum more intelligently – and make sure every business gets as much capacity as they need, when they need it.

The first businesses to build solutions expecting such high capacity will have a massive advantage in terms of creating digital services – the lock-in from which will likely be extremely hard to beat.

Capacity

4.2 The UX factor

Capacity is a user experience thing

There’s going to be some positive correlation between the quality of experience you’re trying to deliver and the network capacity it demands. Videos won’t demand as much bandwidth as full-fledged mixed reality experiences designed to help employees through mission-critical tasks.

 

But users (and customers) won’t accept a ‘dumbed down’ experience just because they happen to be in a crowded area.

Once they get seamless augmented reality performance in the office, they’ll expect it in the airport too. Especially when it’s critical to their jobs.

These expectations could affect how people feel about the services you’re delivering – or your services could be what set these expectations in the first place. The choice is yours.

The collaboration platforms common in many businesses today just wouldn’t have been feasible in a 2G world. Plan today for tomorrow’s potential.


Massive MIMO
It’s going to take a very different approach to cell towers to make 5G possible. Find out what that looks like.

Find out now

5G’s goal

The capacity leap

4G
0.1 Mb/s/m2

5G
10 Mb/s/m2

Mb/s/m = Megabit/second/meter

Capacity

4.3 Why capacity matters

What 10x capacity makes possible

Moving from a few thousand devices in a city block to over a million devices, vehicles and sensors in the same area will demand a major leap in capacity.

 

And because there’ll be so many more use cases driving more device-based usage, capacity demands will only increase. Clearly, we’re going to need bigger pipes.

The capacity potential of 5G will open the door for new business models in everything from field service and logistics to facilities management, commercial real estate and emergency services.

What else will be possible with the colossal capacity enabled by 5G? Let’s look at some of the possibilities in the use cases below.

Capacity

Watch the Okay, But How? Show

Join Dr. Shini Somara as she dives into the weeds of 5G technologies – and what that means for businesses.

Section 5 of 5

Density

What happens when everything is connected?

Density

People and IoT devices are never evenly distributed. They cluster in places like cities, stadiums, airports and skyscrapers.

 

With each of these devices generating and consuming far more data – often while moving around – you get a dastardly, dynamic, density dilemma.

5G can handle that. Because 5G is being designed to connect a world with hundreds of thousands – even millions – more devices per square mile.

To make that happen, every one of these devices and sensors will need more ways to access the network. We’ll also need to get smarter about how data moves between the devices and the network.

New kinds of devices, new kinds of antennae, new air interfaces and new network architectures will all do their part to make 5G rise to the challenges of a high-density, IoT-powered world.

So let’s go back to a big question from a couple of sections ago.

What happens when you can realistically 10x the number of sensors and connected devices your business relies on?

Think about the processes you can automate, the big data you can generate, the big idea products you can invent. Someone’s going to realize the network’s ready for bigger ideas in your market. It’ll pay to be there first.

Density

5.2 The stadium problem

Density and user experience

Airports, arenas, hotels, local governments … it’s time to be thinking about better, more connected customer experiences now.

 

For starters, customers will have no problem connecting to networks, even in dense, network-intensive situations like rush hours, airports, football stadiums, and concerts in the park.

But the biggest shift will be when your employees start to experience hyper-connected environments. Their field equipment, wearable devices, vehicles and on-site sensors will all be connected and communicating – enabling new services, business models and applications.

5G’s goal

Enough devices to connect the world

4G Today
Devices/Km2 = 105

After 5G
Devices/Km2 = 106

Density

Watch the Okay, But How? Show

Join Dr. Shini Somara as she dives into the weeds of 5G technologies – and what that means for businesses.

We promised you an untold story.

 

Our story is still partly untold, because we’re not quite finished explaining 5G … yet.

5G is a big topic, so we’re working on more deep dives into the nuts-and-bolts of the technology behind it. We’re also busy producing new episodes of the “Okay, But How? Show,” with new video illustrations. So if you like, give us your email and we’ll let you know whenever we add brand new stuff to the Explainer.

Now you know why we’re so excited about the fascinating new 5G frontier — and we hope you’re excited about it too.

Thanks for scrolling!

*This Explainer is intended to describe what is possible in the future with 5G.

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