5G Networks: What this means for business

If you live in central Denver, then you have probably seen more than you would like of 5G. Verizon has installed dozens of semi-obtrusive antennas. These miniature cell towers will serve as the infrastructure for 5G, a new, more robust and powerful network that will deliver mobile download speeds up to 20 gigabits per second, among many other improvements.

Denver businesses have seen the substantial changes that 4G brought to the business world. We have seen mobile applications proliferate, allowing businesses to interact much more conveniently with customers and collaborate internally. Conferencing solutions, web-based customer support, and mobile payments are just a few standout cases where mobile data is empowering businesses to deliver superior customer experience with little upfront investment.

As remarkable as these changes have been, mobile still means “tied to your smartphone.” In the 5G world, smartphones are only one type among many connected devices. You might have heard Internet of Things (IoT); maybe you wear a smartwatch, but these additional connected accessories are severely limited compared to their near-future potential.

5G technology is not standardized (see Bigger Gap… below), and in fact many technologies supporting 5G will also improve 4G. Change will be spotty, much faster in cities like Denver, but uneven across telecoms. However, we can expect this new wave to deliver:

  • Faster upload and download speeds, ranging from 25% faster than advanced LTE to 20 gigabits per second
  • Lower latency (see below: “Less need for physical memory and processing speed”)
  • Ability to support more connected devices, due to massive MIMO technology (Watch this great explanatory video on Millimeter waves, Small Cell, Massive MIMO, Beamforming, and Full Duplex for more info on the core technology and wavelengths being used in 5G
  • Note that some “5G” technologies are also being applied to 4G networks, improving efficiency now and leading up to the 5G revolution

Less need for physical memory and processing speed

When data transfer is costly and slow, you want a hard copy of any large files that you might use on hand. Just as 4G opened the path for music and video streaming mobile apps, 5G opens a floodgate. There will be even less reason to house processing speed or physical memory under 5G. Imagine being able to upload/download videos and photos instantly, to be able to download a 4k movie within a couple seconds, or for a video processing application to be able to perform calculations in the cloud but download the results to any device instantly. 5G changes the framework of how applications use and transfer memory. We can expect devices to actually lighten in terms of weight and battery use, as applications shift to using more memory in the cloud.

This is particularly important with regard to Artificial Intelligence. Until 5G, high-intensity algorithmic processing has suffered from significant latency, not significant enough to be ineffective, but still noticeable. When you use Google Voice to transcribe your voice, that latency becomes all too annoying. 4G networks suffer from a 50 millisecond latency or roughly 1/20th of a second. 5G reduces that to 1 millisecond, essentially reducing latency to zero and enabling 5G to send and receive 50x the number of transmissions of 4G. This will streamline communications between human, or sensor, and machine.

5G will drive availability of advanced AI, specifically for real-time applications.

Distributed services

Lower latency means an even more connected world. Expect distributed services to connect professionals and services across the globe. Participate in classes in Shanghai, or “see” a doctor in Bruges. Healthcare, in particular, will see large shifts as low latency combines with IoT, enabling more wearables. Already, hearables have been developed that can translate in real-time, much like the famed babbelfish of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Other wearables can take Electrocardiograms, measure heart rate and blood pressure. Combining these and healthcare-specific, real-time monitoring technologies will allow doctors to treat patients no matter where they are.

Bigger gap between premium and sub-premium telecommunications brands

Telecommunications companies are already building 5G network infrastructures, but there are a range of technologies out there, and each has its own limitations. The 20 gigabits per second 5G refers to ITU IMT-2020, in wavelengths over 15 gigahertz. However, 3GPP standards include lower frequencies, from 600 MHz to 6 GHz. These lower frequencies greater resemble 4G LTE, with speeds topping out at 50% faster.

For a telecommunications company, there will be significant temptation to push forward with 3GPP because lower bandwidths can be broadcast over longer distances, requiring fewer additional cell towers and lowering upfront investment. In Denver, we have seen Verizon install a myriad 5G poles, to the consternation of quite a few residents. But more antennas will mean 5G and ultimately higher connectivity for Verizon customers.

We can expect that the infrastructural investment of 5G will be another decision point for big telecoms, and we can expect larger performance and pricing differences in network speed between premium and sub-premium brands.

Internet of Things: Wearables, appliances, sensors

As consumers, we have seen a few wearables and home appliances pop up since 4G and fiber optic networks have increased speed and reliability of Internet connectivity. With approximately 10x the bandwidth, lower latency, and other efficiencies derived from massive MIMO, beamforming, and full duplex, the number of connected devices will increase exponentially.

Alexa and the Apple Watch are only the beginning.

Industrial IoT

Smart wireless technologies will drive deeper connectivity on the factory floor and outside of it, helping to enable automation, predictive maintenance, energy management, and integrated supply chains.

Fleet management, logistics and shipping

Expect better location tracking for fleet management and ride-sharing services. More robust communication will empower real-time delivery tracking and reporting.

Drones

Drones are not new, but 5G networks will empower widespread use for functions such as security and surveillance, medical, video capture, and smart delivery. Whereas full-scale development of drone delivery would be difficult now, 5G’s robust, efficient network architecture makes this sci-fi dream into a real possibility.

How Do These Changes Impact Your Denver Business?

As these new speeds and lower latencies roll out, we will all experience a significant boost to the quality of service. Facetime calls that were awkward on 4G will be business quality over 5G networks. We will see AI become an even greater presence in our daily lives. As these changes make our lives more convenient at home and on the go, we will come to expect similar convenience in our interactions with businesses, and the businesses who can continue to meet those rising expectations will gain loyalty, advocacy and popularity. Business owners can prepare to excel in 5G environments by taking another, closer look at how they do business. If an app or new device seems inconvenient, slow, or far-fetched today, it might just be a gamechanger in 2020.