Will 5G be a Game Changer – or Not?

If you watch television, it’s hard to escape the advertisements from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile about their high-speed 5G networks.  Their marketing programs are aimed at U.S. consumers looking for faster wireless service, rather than business customers. That raises the question: Will 5G be a game-changer for IAUG members and other enterprises?

“One of the benefits of 5G networks is support for work-from-home (WFH) employees,” said Nick Kwiatkowski, director of unified communications at Michigan State University and a member of IAUG’s NAC Committee. Adding a 5G microcell to a home office can

to support a 10x or 100x increase in download speeds, supporting soft phones, video chats and other collaboration applications.  

“These 5G high-speed connections give remote workers an alterative to cable modems or wifi hot spots,” Kwiatkowski said. “For some enterprises, 5G will be make a big difference in improving access to communications applications.”

Suited for dense environments

When evaluating the potential impact of 5G, a key consideration geography.  That’s because 5G providers use the millimeter wave (mmWave) radio spectrum and the signals have a much shorter range than other cellular frequencies.

To address that issue, the big three providers are deploying networks of low-powered small cells in dense urban areas that connect with traditional macro cell towers.  Because the mmWave signals require line of sight transmissions no more than 300 to 500 feet apart, the networks must be configured around buildings, trees or other obstacles.

“5G allows the providers to serve more users in a high-density area without sacrificing bandwidth,” Kwiatkowski said. “It allows them to reuse existing bandwidth by making the cells smaller and smaller.”

Along with these urban networks, a small-cell 5G system can be deployed in an airport, train station, office building, convention center or stadium. “We lit up our college stadium for 5G service,” said Kwiatkowski. “We are also planning to implement it in our auditoriums and lecture halls, where more bandwidth is needed to serve our users.

Students with phones, tablets or laptops could readily access bandwidth-hungry applications, such as integrating online videos with lectures.”

A 5G network could also make it faster, easier and cheaper for enterprises to offer high-speed broadband services to branch offices, retail stores or manufacturing and distribution facilities located away from the organization’s headquarters.  If the providers offer 5G in those locations, companies could quickly extend their network coverage without investing in on-premises infrastructure.

Other issues for enterprises

Security is another potential advantage of 5G service. “Hackers have figured out how to compromise the legacy protocols in 4G, so this next generation technology may close those loopholes,” said Kwiatkowski.  That advantage could be of particular importance to healthcare organizations, financial institutions and other businesses in regulated industries.

Another issue to consider is the importance of connecting the enterprise network to the Internet of things (IoT) sensors and other devices.  “Many devices require only low bandwidth applications, such as a streetlight or a thermometer on a farm,” Kwiatkowski said. “However, security cameras and live streaming applications can benefit from the high bandwidth of 5G networks.”

While 5G will probably not be a game-changer for most organizations, it can deliver clear benefits for a variety of use cases. As Kwiatkowski said, “The key is to understand what 5G can and cannot do.”

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