The fifth and latest generation of mobile technology, 5G, has arrived. In market after market, mobile carriers are rolling out their 5G services while equipment manufacturers are introducing their latest 5G-compatible devices, making the technology very real and very near. In fact, its June 2019 Mobility Report, Ericsson forecasted 5G subscriptions would grow from just 10 million worldwide at the end of 2019 to as many as 1.9 billion by the end of 2024. With 5G technology becoming more readily available to everyday users, businesses must begin thinking about how 5G may impact their overall corporate strategy. That means understanding how it can be used to enhance the capabilities of their mobile workforce, how it can enable an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy and whether it can be used as a fixed line replacement – as well as what those changes mean for their current business services and network costs.
Consumers Drive Demand for 5G Experience
Often it is the consumer experience that drives what happens in the business environment. It was consumer demand for the iPhone that quickly led to its adoption in the enterprise space, crushing the once dominant BlackBerry. With the advent of 5G, and its promise of greater speed, increased capacity and less latency, a similar trend may hold true. The major U.S. carriers began deploying 5G services last year, and although it may not be a nationwide roll out yet, 5G networks are appearing in many cities, offering speeds that are 10 to 40 times faster than today’s 4G/LTE performance. Not only are the networks becoming more widely available, but the devices supporting 5G standards are also beginning to hit their stride – with more options and lower pricing than before. This will ultimately usher 5G into the mainstream and put pressure on carriers and equipment providers, as well as businesses in general, to deliver on the promise of the 5G experience.
So, what does this mean for businesses?
As 5G availability and usage becomes more widespread, employees will expect their business to offer 5G enabled devices as part of the corporate mobile structure. They will expect the business environment to provide 5G’s faster speeds, greater bandwidth and lower latency to help enable them in their jobs and meet their business requirements. With the increasing 5G availability, smartphones, connected tablets, and laptops are expected to see sharp increases in data usage. In fact, Ericsson predicts that North American Smartphone data usage will grow from an average of 7GB/month in 2018 to 39GB/month by 2024. While video is expected to drive much of that increase, and corporate need for video is often less than in the consumer segment, this type of growth will force enterprises to rethink how they are procuring mobility today and what that means for the future. Companies on a data pooling model could see the size of data pool grow drastically. In such cases, they may need to look at ways to control unauthorized usage or look to unlimited data offerings as an alternative – but even “unlimited” has limitations. Because of these changes, how 5G impacts the enterprise mobility space will need to be understood and planned for today.
Built for Business: New Connections and Endpoints Add Infrastructure Complexity
While some aspects of 5G draw the attention of consumers, many of the possibilities associated with 5G are built for businesses. Ericsson’s Cellular IoT Evolution for Industry Digitalization whitepaper notes that cellular IoT has been widely adopted, with 2G and 3G connectivity enabling many of the early IoT applications. Today’s 4G services and devices, capable of greater bandwidth, lower latency and larger device volumes form an environment that will be further enhanced with the arrival of 5G networks. We can look forward to emerging use cases in advanced wide area and local area applications as well as in intelligent transportation systems and smart utilities, healthcare, manufacturing, and other sectors.
Ultimately, 5G will pave the way for a larger number of IoT devices, which according to Ericsson are expected to grow from 8.6 billion devices in 2018 to more than 22 billion by 2024. Even with full-scale 5G deployment still a year or two away, fixed and mobile services will need to be poised to take advantage of enhanced IoT.
5G Offers Additional Flexibility for WWANs
In another example, the inclusion of Wireless Wide Area Networks (WWAN) in many business’s overall WAN solutions became increasingly popular with the rollout of 4G as a more convenient way connect employee’s laptops, to meet a business’s other mobile broadband needs, and as an easy to deploy alternative to some fixed line connections in their networks. When you add to that the potential for significantly greater speeds and responsiveness associated with 5G, you have a potentially very appealing solution to many business’s higher bandwidth requirements. That said, a traditional cable broadband connection can be a fairly inexpensive connectivity option that can be capable of relatively high speeds. A 4G wireless connection might run about the same price, but may be capped on monthly usage or may include charges for overage – factors that need to be accounted for. As usage increases, this problem could get worse, and how this looks in a 5G world for businesses remains to be seen. The challenge will come with understanding what solution makes sense, how it impacts current services, and how to ensure the solution is an economical one. This requires both an understanding of the current inventory, services, and usage, as well as when, where, why and how a 5G solution enables better outcomes.
Enterprise Planning for 5G Starts Today
Due to all these potential changes, it is critical that enterprises today manage both their fixed and mobile environments to prepare for the 5G revolution. Much as data usage spiked in the enterprise when moving from a Blackberry to an iPhone, a 5G speed boost will drive higher, faster, and more data intensive traffic. Not only will businesses need to invest in new hardware to take advantage of all that 5G can offer, technology assets will need to be closely managed and monitored to properly keep track of how they’re using 5G. Without a properly optimized infrastructure, there’s potential for gaps in security, inventory, and especially spending. Businesses that do not mitigate the costs associated with planning for their 5G IT and telecom infrastructure future will continue to face significant risks. As 5G coverage continues to expand throughout the next few years, enterprise planning cannot wait. As consumers get a taste for the better experiences enabled by 5G, employers must start to think about where 5G is most effectively implemented and where to invest to capitalize on the promise of this latest generation in mobile technology.