5G wireless likely won’t be used by many businesses until 2020, but the wireless industry is aggressively moving to experiment with technologies that could make up a standardized version of 5G. Moreover, service providers and vendors are sketching out use cases for businesses so that companies can take advantage of the next-generation technology when it arrives.
For many businesses, 5G will bring not only faster wireless speeds but also lower latencies, meaning there will be less delay once companies request data over the network. The benefits are expected to be most pronounced for companies that rely on numerous sensors connected to devices as part of the Internet of Things (IoT), analysts and network vendors say.
Manufacturing, logistics, and smart and connected transportation are some of the industries that will likely take advantage of 5G, according to Peter Jarich, vice president and wireless network infrastructure analyst at Current Analysis, a D.C.-based IT research and intelligence company. “The speed, in and of itself, is not as important as what you’re going to do with it,” he says.
Wireless firms all over the world are moving ahead with various tests of 5G technologies — including millimeter-wave wireless in high spectrum frequency bands — and tests of low-powered connections for IoT devices. The standards for 5G likely will be set in 2018 and 2019, with wide-scale deployments expected in the 2020 time frame.
Some wireless carriers are moving ahead with tests. T-Mobile US plans to conduct 5G trials in the 28 GHz band in the second half of 2016 with network vendors Ericsson and Nokia. And Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said yesterday that the company plans to conduct a 5G pilot in 2017 focused on fixed wireless applications.
As IT news website CIO.com notes, 5G networks could eventually deliver speeds of 6 gigabits per second. At the cable industry group CableLabs’ InformED Wireless conference in New York last week, Tim Burke, vice president of strategic technology at international cable firm Liberty Global, said a key issue for businesses that want to take advantage of 5G is that high-frequency transmissions often have trouble penetrating inside buildings, CIO notes. “It’s really tough to get through walls or any building materials,” Burke said, according to CIO. “We’ll have to see that change.”
Jarich notes that 5G will not solely be on high-frequency spectrum; in the U.S. market it could run on low-band 600 MHz spectrum, which has no problem penetrating inside buildings.
Which kind of businesses will make the most of 5G? Jarich says companies that operate warehouses or manufacturing facilities could use 5G, and use virtual reality and augmented reality in compelling ways. Thanks to low latency, virtual images can be rendered quickly, he notes, and companies inside warehouses can use those technologies to figure out where to place products or orders.
Companies can also use the technologies to repair machinery and conduct maintenance. Software firm PTC, which last year bought Qualcomm’s Vuforia augmented reality (AR) technology platform, announced late last month it will support Microsoft’s HoloLens virtual reality headset and has touted machinery repairs as an AR application.
“Enterprises need instructional apps that allow workers to remain hands-free while viewing digital content aligned to the real world,” Vuforia notes on its website. “Vuforia lets you overlay 2D and 3D content while providing precise alignment so you can create valuable apps for assembly, inspection, repair, or training.”
Other markets that will benefit from 5G are shipping, transportation and logistics firms. “We can consider sensors embedded in roads, railways and airfields to communicate with each other and/or with smart vehicles,” Ericsson says in discussing 5G use cases.
Jarich says that any industry that relies on a large density of connected IoT devices and sensors will benefit from 5G networks. “4G wasn’t designed to handle the density of sensors” that are coming to many industries, Jarich says.
Ericsson says 5G can enable “critical control of remote devices” and points to the following potential use cases for companies: remote control of heavy machineries, factory automation and real-time monitoring of plant or process conditions. The benefits will include “controlling heavy machinery remotely to lower risks in hazardous environments” and the ability to increase efficiency and reduce costs, according to Ericsson.
Jarich says businesses should be thinking of “what they could do if they had more bandwidth and lower latency. What kinds of things would they be doing?” Companies should express those desires to their wireless partners, he suggests, as 5G comes more clearly into view.