20 February 2020

Why businesses need to start thinking about 5G.
BY Karim Benabdallah

5G services are creeping out to the market but it will take a few years before the full potential of next-generation connectivity is fully understood and realised. But businesses need to start thinking about the technology now, because iterative improvements over 4G connectivity are only part of the story. When core 5G networks are fully rolled out, they will trigger a whole new wave of disruption and opportunity. Here are a few examples of what we know we can expect:

More agile and cost-effective connectivity.

5G will provide a cost-effective alternative to fibre for all sorts of enterprises. Not only will it compete on speed and latency, it encourages a new kind of business flexibility because wireless is unconstrained by cables and sockets. Factory managers will be able to move around connected equipment to facilitate new production lines at much shorter notice; large retail chains will be able to refurbish all its stores, rearranging wirelessly connected EPOS tills that were previously difficult to move.

The same 5G connection will support other advanced services, like predictive maintenance on the factory floor or ways for large retail chains to integrate their offline and online shopping experiences. The ubiquity and resilience of 5G will have the power to transform the relationship between real and physical worlds, using Augmented and Virtual reality

Simpler devices will push complexity to the cloud.

The days of field workers, like meter readers and maintenance engineers, lugging round heavy handheld devices or even smartphones may be numbered. Improved speeds and latency mean all the complexity of the applications they use can be accessed out of the cloud, not from the device. Credit card sized devices with tiny screens may be all that’s needed to carry out routine tasks remotely.

The simplest devices, however, will be low-power sensors used for IoT (Internet of Things) solutions that will become more commonplace with the arrival of 5G. Data will be routed to cloud platforms for sharing and analysis. For this to happen at scale, new mobile infrastructure will be needed, low-powered cells with much smaller coverage, as little as 20 metres.

Augmented and Virtual Reality will finally take off. 

The combination of low latency and faster speeds will light up an AR/VR market that has so far struggled to take hold, because low bandwidth and buffering undermines the experience. Once the infrastructure is available to get over the connectivity challenges and deliver on performance, use cases will only limited by our imagination: tourists walking around Dublin with AR headsets that show them what Viking-era Dublin would have looked like; online shoppers using AR to try on virtual clothes without going anywhere near a shop; surgeons accessing 3D content to get a better understanding of a procedure; a mechanic working of a car schematic.    

Holographic content will also become more accessible with 5G, virtual overlays of video or animation that can be projected onto physical objects. All of this richer content will help mobilise design and graphics industries that have previously struggled to work remotely. Architects, for example, could share 3D plans and high-resolution images over a video conference call from anywhere without the risk of buffering.

Connected vehicles communicating with smart cities.

Because 5G can support a million connected IoT devices over 1 km2, it enables multiple interactions between different objects. Perhaps the best use case is a connected car driving through a smart city. A dashboard screen could make journey times faster and safer by detecting everything from traffic flow from roadside sensors to the actual vehicles around them, from large trucks to lone cyclists, all showing up on the screen because they have connected devices or sensors. At the same time, the car could be using telemetry for the manufacturer to monitor engine performance or have sensors in the seat and connected cameras to keep a check on the driver’s health.

The real magic will eventually be network slicing, the ability to define network layers with specific capabilities to support dedicated services. Between 25-30 capabilities can be reserved and managed though a single connection, which offers unprecedented control over mobile bandwidth and the opportunity to deliver multiple services, each with appropriate levels of performance. Potential business applications are enormous.

All of this is in the near future – but not far into the future and businesses need to prepare.  5G will open up new business models that we can’t imagine, just as no-one could have anticipated the rise of social media platforms a decade ago. This is why Three is spending as much time listening to customers, partners and stakeholders as talking to them. Working together we will be better positioned to map a future that is still largely unknown and take advantage of everything that 5G delivers.

Over the coming months Three will be running a series of 5G strategy workshops to develop the conversation. Please email our events team at to register your interest.