May 14 2021

5G Has Arrived. What Will It Really Mean For Businesses?

The latest iteration in wireless networking is generating lots of buzz. How big of a step forward is 5G?

Mobile data speeds and coverage have grown quickly over the past few decades, and the fifth generation of the technology, or 5G, is getting more buzz than its predecessors. Because mobile wireless networks are pretty complicated things, it’s easy to misperceive what 5G really is and is not — and, more important, what it will and won’t do for businesses.

Fallacy: 5G Will Always Deliver Better Speed Than 4G

Overall, 5G increases the performance of mobile devices over what is available on 4G/LTE networks. That doesn’t mean that every single 5G connection is faster than the fastest 4G/LTE connection, but in general, 5G will deliver increased performance.

However, 5G speeds are very dependent on where you are and what frequencies your carrier has available. The highest speeds — those in the gigabit range — require the highest frequencies, which don’t penetrate buildings or go very far from towers. That means that your smartphone is not going to suddenly have a multigigabit internet connection when it’s on 5G. In general, you can assume that 5G is faster, but for most people in most situations, it’s not tremendously faster than 4G/LTE.

5G has other performance benefits: It supports a much higher density of subscribers, meaning businesses can plan on having good bandwidth — just not gigabit — available over a very wide area. Low-frequency 5G networks also reach farther, so rural areas should have better coverage than with 4G technology.

Fact: 5G Is IoT Friendly

The billions of additional devices that will directly connect to the internet in coming years — as sensors, controllers and human-machine interfaces — will need fast, stable connections. While Wi-Fi is one option, it’s not always the best one, and cellular providers have been delivering low-power/low-bandwidth Internet of Things services on their networks for years.

5G carrier networks and 5G technology on private networks will help extend the footprint of wireless data services. As a result, businesses that want to deploy IoT products can expect to have greater reach, more public and private options, and lower costs for their communications.

Fallacy: With 5G, the Carrier Is Irrelevant

It’s important to understand that 5G is a mix of multiple standards covering multiple use cases, and every carrier will deploy 5G differently depending on its product mix and the spectrum it has available. For example, low-frequency 5G networks, such as the one that T-Mobile is deploying in the U.S., deliver longer ranges and slightly higher bandwidths, but not the multigigabit speeds that you would get with a high-frequency 5G network, like the one Verizon is delivering on a high-frequency spectrum.

Business owners hearing “5G is coming” should remember that 5G networks will, for several years, be in transition from 4G/LTE and share bandwidth and subscribers. That means that some of 5G’s proposed benefits, such as lower latency, might take a while to show up.

WATCH: Learn more about how next-gen networking can power your infrastructure and customer service. 

Fact: 5G Is Safe for Customers and Employees

Businesses might be worried about promoting a technology that could present a danger to their customers or employees. However, the overwhelming conclusion of studies on mobile data is that normal levels of exposure to electromagnetic radiation from both smartphones and towers have no measurable effect on health at the frequencies in use by 5G networks. In fact, 5G delivers less electromagnetic radiation than radar, computer monitors, power lines and the sun. Researchers are still looking at the effects of mobile data radiation on humans, but there’s no reason to think that 5G is any different than anything that has come before.

Businesses building products that will use high-speed 5G services aren’t going to encounter anything substantially different from a health and workplace safety standpoint than with older technology.

Fact: 5G Offers Native Advantages to Businesses

With the evolution of data networks, it’s tempting for IT leaders to regard 5G as just more of the same, or a mere incremental advancement — and for many end users, 5G, 4G and LTE are all just icons on their mobile devices. However, businesses should know that 5G has native ­quality-of-service characteristics that 4G does not.

In 5G networks, network virtualization is built into the underlying technology. This enables carriers to slice up the network into pieces and optimize the delivery of resources for the users that subscribe to each piece. Instead of offering a single service for every subscriber, 5G operators can build virtual networks that have particular characteristics, such as connectivity, capacity and throughput. This means that carriers can customize the network to meet the particular needs of business customers.

For many organizations, 5G’s promise is about efficient data transmission — and in that sense, 5G is just better, faster wireless. For businesses that want to create new services and enter new markets, however, 5G offers the opportunity to partner with carriers on a custom-built network that goes above and beyond the standard services. Having a custom virtual network based on 5G availability can be the edge that distinguishes your services from the competition’s. 

LJ Davids