With 5G looming over the horizon, it is important for enterprises to understand that these new core and radio technologies represent a change agent for enterprises on a scale similar to the waves of innovation represented by Digitization and the Internet of Things. Key technology enablers like those promised with 5G can and will have impact on all business, in every industry and of every scale.
Yes, IoT may be happening independent of 5G, but what 5G will do is make IoT and other applications far more scalable, cost-effective, and ubiquitous. 5G also opens the door for very high-end applications and services, such as connected drones and cloud robotics.
The key for enterprises as we approach the 5G era is to look not just at 5G itself, but to focus on what it enables. With its capability of one millisecond latency, for instance, it opens the door for opportunities such as real-time control of the power grid and virtual reality that goes beyond seeing things to “feeling” them. Or widespread use of autonomous, even cloud-driven, vehicles.
What 5G offers for the enterprise
For the enterprise, everything that 5G offers – low latency, massive data capacity and high reliability – promises to be of great value. Its advantages will make possible the next generation of bold applications, each of which will require it all — lots of bandwidth, low latency, and reliability.
Potential use cases are limited only by our imaginations. For instance, we’ve talked with people who operate or supply to factories, and they see potential in industrial robotics in a way we wouldn’t have expected.
They point out that just sending a signal to the arm of an industrial robot requires a cable, and often many cables. These cables add weight to the robot’s arm, which can limit the speed of its movement. Cables also break and cause maintenance issues. So if we sent the signal to the arm via 5G, it could eliminate the need for cabling and enable far more agile and nimble robots.
It is easy to imagine the factory of the future “wired” with wireless 5G.
Ending virtual reality nausea
At this point, the use cases for 5G tend to be enterprise-heavy. But for consumers, augmented and virtual reality will be big beneficiaries of 5G’s advantages, particularly its extremely low latency.
The problem with virtual or augmented reality are that humans can get physically ill if the latency between the time in which you move your head and your virtual view adjusts is too long. Your brain becomes disoriented, and that leads to a feeling of nausea. Overall latency of five to seven milliseconds is tolerable, and not possible with LTE today, but 5G does much better than that, with latency as low as one millisecond.
While 5G-enabled AR/VR will have tremendous impact on gaming and entertainment, it also offers distinct business advantages. Doing remote repairs via augmented reality will become possible, allowing technical experts with unique expertise to apply it anywhere in the world, at a moment’s notice, with sensory inputs akin to being there in person. 5G will also benefit companies that want to use virtual reality for training, or to help sell their products and services.
So is 5G overhyped?
Like nearly every technology, 5G is moving through a typical hype cycle. You might think we are at the peak, given how often 5G is in the news, but keep in mind that we are still very early in implementation and adoption. Furthermore, there is an additional dynamic with 5G compared to what consumers have come to expect with previous wireless generations: it is driving fixed (as well as mobile) wireless in a way that wasn’t foreseen when 5G was originally conceived.
5G lends itself very well to traditional fixed use scenarios. However, that fact has increased the level of near-term hype and expectations, with many companies intensely interested in 5G for fixed services. As these are less complex technologically than mobile, they undoubtedly will be available earlier, possibly in pre-standardized implementations.
The downside here is that the application of 5G to fixed services could lead to confusion. People are used to relating the G’s, like 3G and 4G, to their smartphones. But if they see the first services delivered as fixed wireless to their apartment building, and the provider touts as “5G,” it will be confusing and distort expectations.
Always remember that 5G is an audacious technology, and it is going to take time to bring all the advantages it offers to fruition. Enterprise and consumer users may not really expect everything to be revolutionized overnight, but the challenge will be to resist impatience and know that all these capabilities will continue to advance.
It is important, no matter what business your company is in, to take a longer term view and pause to consider how you can benefit from the higher speeds and other capabilities of 5G. Remember, it is the ultimate enabler, one that offers a different potential for every business.
Now is the time to ponder what you would do with up to 10 gigabits per second of capacity, or with the ultra-low latency of 5G. What would these mean to your business? How could you leverage them to transform your business? Think about it and consult with experts such as Sprint.
About Ron Marquardt
Prior to Sprint, Dr. Marquardt was VP of Technology Development at Clearwire Corporation, responsible for that company’s technology strategy as well as the architecture, design, testing, and implementation of its mobile broadband 4G network, devices, and services. He also was CTO at Covad Communications where he led teams responsible for the engineering and network planning of VoIP, wireless, and broadband services across the United States. Prior to that role, he was in various positions at network equipment manufacturers.
Dr. Marquardt has an S.B. in Physics from MIT, an M.S. and Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Caltech, and is an alumnus of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.