If you’ve heard about the standards proposed for 5G – the next generation of mobile communications standards – you know mobile networks are in for a major boost.

10-100x higher data transfer speeds are expected to make big data transfers simple. A 5x reduction in latency is expected to make voice and video apps incredibly smooth. A 10x improvement in device battery life is expected to make mobile and Internet of Things applications much more scalable.

And better distribution of loads and redundancies mean 99.99999% reliability should be possible.

5G sounds like exciting stuff.

So with a couple of years to go before the deployment of 5G (phase 1 of the proposed rollout is expected to launch in 2018), what should CIOs be looking forward to?

To find out, we talked to Ken Rehbehn, principal analyst for mobile telecom at 451 Research.

  1. This time it’s different

The first thing Ken told us was the move to 5G isn’t going to be anything like the move to 4G.

“The evolution from 1G to 4G has been a relatively straightforward, generational change. 5G is different. With 5G, we aren’t looking at a single technological innovation that creates this crisp line between 4G and 5G. Instead, what the operators in the ecosystem envision is something that is more driven by use cases.”

  1. 5G will power net new use cases

So if 5G’s being designed to power new use cases, it’s worth considering which net new use cases would rely on its “extreme, ultra-reliable, real-time communication”.

One example Ken brought up was the fascinating potential of the ‘tactile Internet’ – technology that gives us the ability to manipulate objects remotely, with fine-grained control. For this technology to work, network performance is crucial. The feedback needs to be fast and consistent enough for the user to feel like the object’s right in front of them.

“An example of where that would be important is a Fukushima-like clean-up. You don’t want robotic equipment that’s performing very critical tasks to be operated by human beings who are in close proximity to the site. But you also don’t want the equipment manipulated over frequency bands that are unlicensed and subject to interference,” he explained.

With 5G, this is possible. And while this might be a niche new use case, it does serve to highlight the level of performance 5G aims to deliver.

  1. 5G will be big for the Internet of Things

While the four previous generations of mobile network standards focused on optimizing spectrum efficiency, 5G aims to improve energy efficiency, too. That means the battery life of connected devices will improve significantly.

That’s a big deal for the Internet of Things.

“CIOs are already thinking about the Internet of Things. But what’s missing today is the advantage of scale. Standards-based IoT connectivity through 5G drives the cost of devices down. And it drives the costs of networks down,” says Ken.

“Case in point – engine monitoring. If it isn’t expensive to integrate monitoring of key performance indicators for engine performance and then transmit them to the factory, it may be possible to identify problems in engines proactively and give customers advance warning.”

  1. 5G will make the cloud even more pervasive

So what about use cases for network connectivity that CIOs are currently dealing with?

“5G would improve business-as-usual. With the higher bands there is the potential for eliminating cables for connectivity locally as well as expanding connectivity to the cloud,” Ken suggests.

“5G removes speed impediments, latency issues and bandwidth limitations. So as CIOs look to shift more applications to the cloud, people who aren’t tethered to a fixed network can start to use these systems with 5G. LTE is actually pretty good today. But 5G makes a sharp improvement,” he adds.

“This is a continuation of our journey to a virtualized, cloud-based world.”

  1. 4G is still evolving

An important point about 5G’s arrival is that it doesn’t automatically mean 4G LTE goes away. As Ken explains,“5G does not replace LTE. 4G continues to evolve. And elements of it that evolve will be incorporated in 5G.

“The change for some aspects is not radical change, but evolutionary. For tapping new spectrum, that’s a radical change. But it does not replace the tried and true mechanisms that work so well in the lower bands.”

In fact, some of the standards needed to support low power IoT devices and networks may become possible with 4G, even before 5G is deployed.

So here’s what we know: the speed, latency and energy efficiency of 5G is going to give CIOs a radically improved innovation platform. And with continued improvements to 4G LTE, you probably won’t have to wait that long to get started.

The key: figuring out how you can improve the way your people work now so you can take advantage of both 5G and 4G’s emerging standards.

To learn more about these standards, we highly recommend this excerpt from 451 Research’s Foresight Report about 5G and it’s impact on IT.

And Ken was kind enough to recommend some key organizations you should follow in order to keep track of 5G’s evolution:

3GPP

NGMN (Next Generation Mobile Networks)

5Gamericas

TIA

All of which raises the question: how would you use 5G to influence the future of work?

Let us know in the comments below.