First things first: advertising touting mobile networks that are “4G” or “5G” or even “10G” are just that, advertisements. When carriers started the commercial availability of 4G, the technologies included LTE, WiMAX and even HSDA/HSPA/HSPA+. Most users were not too concerned with the alphabet soup, as long as fewer calls are dropped and streaming and download speeds are faster.
Generations of mobile networks go through an upgrade about every 10 years. The progression from 2G to 4G has largely focused on the consumer and carriers plastered claims of speed, coverage, and reliability everywhere. As we are on the verge of the next generation, 5G, there will soon be a wave of carrier claims about their 5G network’s speed and capabilities. It’s about time the industry focused on the enterprise, and not just the consumer. Since standards are still being worked out, this is a great opportunity to put together a 5G wish list for the enterprise.
The jump from 2G to 3G was noticeable, similar to the jump from your 28.8 to 56k modem back in the day. It wasn’t until speed tests showed downlink speeds over 5 Mbps that there was a noticeable difference with mobile broadband. Today’s experience with 4G/LTE is pretty solid. If the user’s baseline expectation of connectivity speeds is that of WiFi, then anything faster will not be a groundbreaking experience. When WiFi speeds improve, then the mobile experience must be as fast or faster. For now, the debate over speed has little impact on choice of carriers. Therefore, speed claims associated with 5G may impact the WiFi market more than it will impact switching from carrier to carrier.
Wish List #1: A 5G data plan that is cost-competitive to limit the reliance on WiFi to subsidize data usage.
Coverage and connectivity
Coverage and connectivity will always be differentiators among carriers. On the consumer level, this is a very localized decision. If a network drops a call in the same spot and that same spot is the users home (and no carrier is immune to this), then chances are that the user will find a different carrier. On an enterprise scale, there will be greater concern about the impact of falling back from 5G to 4G will have on maintaining a voice call connection and data handoffs. Enterprise mobile users will be watching more video and sending and receiving richer content tethered to more business critical applications.
Wish List #2: If 5G will maintain a stronger connection and penetrate deeper into buildings, then it will win over the enterprise and forever end the excuse, “I’m getting in the elevator, so I will lose you.”
Voice and data
GSM carriers have had a subtle advantage from the enterprise perspective. Having the capability to access apps and surf while maintaining a voice call is very useful. If Wish List #1 happens, then this spells trouble for WiFi. If WiFi goes by the wayside like aircards, then non-GSM carriers will need to figure how to allow users to talk and surf at the same time.
Wish List #3: Being able to talk and surf at the same time needs to be a ubiquitous industry standard in the 21st century. The time is now.
Whatever 5G will be is still up for debate. Looking at the trajectory of innovation, the potential of 5G may fundamentally change how devices connect. At some point, devices will hold a connection everywhere and 5G could carry us over that threshold.