Here’s what 5G will mean for your business.

Ciara O'Reilly
On: 14 Nov 2019
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The fifth-generation mobile network is coming, bringing faster speeds, more reliable connectivity and higher capacity than were possible before. Whereas consumers are often the first ones to benefit from earlier mobile technology progress, with 5G businesses look set to be the biggest beneficiaries from the early stages, to game-changing gains in the longer term.

But there’s still some confusion around 5G, so it’s important to establish what changes it will bring and how they will affect businesses. Unlike previous new mobile generations, 5G rollout won’t be immediate, with a big switch on happening all at once in every location nationwide. In most places, cities and large urban areas will be the first to get 5G coverage for handsets, followed by towns and rural areas. However, 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) will initially be rolled out in non-urban locations. This will be the same situation globally, not just in Ireland. 

Faster speeds.

Over the next 12 months, it’s all about enhanced mobile broadband: in other words, speed. It can deliver up to 1Gigabit per second capacity – at least 10 times faster for businesses and theoretically 20 times faster speeds.

What’s more, with less ‘lag’ or latency on the connection, this opens up lots of possibilities such as video streaming, conferencing, and remote training delivered to very high quality. That’s a very powerful asset for businesses, and this capability will be available as soon as 5G becomes available. It will also have the effect of making true remote working a real possibility, since it will enable people to perform all of their work from any location as if they were based in head office.

Lower latency.

Another element of 5G that’s less well understood is lower latency; this will be a powerful addition. It will enable companies with manufacturing sites to use remote supervision and control – essentially, to create smart factories where everything is fully automated, without the need for manual intervention – both in the process and also diagnosing and repairing any faults in the production line.

We often hear augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR) mentioned in the same breath as 5G. That’s because both technologies need high bandwidth and a large-capacity connection; current 4G technology doesn’t provide this reliably enough. In a business context, AR over 5G might mean providing employee training directly on the smartphone, or even using a 5G-enabled handset to project the training demo to a screen or office wall.

This technology can also be applied to the education sector, where 5G can enable remote classes that enable specialised teachers to deliver a class virtually from another location: saving time-consuming travel, while improving education methods. Three is already testing these cases as a part of our Arranmore Island project, aiming to improve the education experience.

Previously, there were too many buffers in the way of delivering a smooth, immersive training experience via the mobile network, but 5G has the potential to make remote training a real possibility.

IoT everywhere.

5G will also usher in increased numbers of connected devices, by allowing businesses to put sensors or IoT units in various parts of their business or into infrastructure. 5G’s capacity means it can handle much higher density of connected devices in one area. This will drive further evolution of smart electricity metering, smart agriculture, or high-quality logistics with easier tracking of packages or containers and improved fleet management. One exciting example which the industry is actively working on is IoT sensors for urban scooter rental. By being connected, the scooters are easier to track, and manage to help commuters and improve the quality of transport options.

A connectivity challenger.

For broadband: fixed wireless access (FWA) will be one of the first 5G products and this will be a genuine challenger product to fixed broadband. In urban areas, FWA will be a viable alternative to fibre connections, and we see an even bigger potential takeup in locations such as satellite towns and rural areas that have suffered from the lack of high-speed connectivity until now. For example, on Arranmore in Donegal, we rolled out the 4G equivalent of this service and it’s had a transformative effect on the island’s businesses.

For the first time, the speed and reliability on offer means that businesses can use a 5G mobile connection as their primary broadband service and operate an entirely redundant backup line over a lower-speed fixed-line connection. That’s never been possible before.

Planning for 5G.

5G will affect devices, since current 4G models won’t be compatible with the new network. So, a business should start thinking about its mobile device management strategy in preparation for 5G. As well as seeing new form factors like foldable handsets, arguably a more important consideration will be in how employees interact with the device.

To get ready for 5G, businesses need to identify the key drivers for growth and then overlay the elements that need to be in place to make that happen.

Initially 5G will mean more broadband for business, and as we move into 2021 and 2022, use cases and applications for specific industry sectors will start to become clearer. In many cases, businesses are already working together with their technology partners to test new applications that take advantage of the connectivity. While this is happening mainly at enterprise level, it could also be possible for small businesses too. 

5G brings collaboration between companies, mobile operators and technology partners to a different level. Working together from the early stages, even before the 5G network is deployed, allows everyone to identify and develop applications and use cases, which can benefit the companies, make business more efficient, save on cost and bring innovation. 

We’re only starting to imagine the gains that will be possible through 5G. At the very least, it will enable businesses to improve productivity and do more with their connectivity. That’s why it’s important to start thinking about 5G, understand the technology, become familiar with what it can do. From there, businesses will start to see the possibilities for how it can help them. 

At Three, we publish new content every week to help Irish businesses discover new technologies and explore new ways of working. To ensure you never miss out on the latest insights, subscribe to our Business Learning Centre.