Preparing your business for the impact of 5G connectivity

Australia is now moving, albeit at a usual leisurely pace, into the 5G era. Given there’s already been 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G, it’s to be expected that many average Australians are unaware of the game-changing impact of 5G. But IT leaders can’t afford to be blasé.

The future is here and will soon be widely distributed

Whether your business uses—directly or via a smaller provider—the Telstra, Optus, or Mobile JV networks, it will have access to 5G no later than the end of next year, and likely earlier than that. Many tech companies have been cagey about release dates, but it’s certain that industry giants like Apple, Samsung, Huawei, LG, Nokia, and Sony will release 5G-capable phones if they haven’t already.

5G applications will turbocharge the fourth industrial revolution

To understand the benefit of 5G compared to your past mobile network experiences, consider the following. Remember that 800MB file that took you four hours to download over 3G, and probably around 43 seconds on your current 4G connection? 5G aims to have it to you in a single second.

As with most technological advances, it’s likely that the impact of 5G applications will be overhyped in the short term and underestimated in the longer term. But, as Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg has pointed out, 5G is going to shake things up right from the get-go, because it will:

  • Massively ramp-up speed and throughput
    Think peak data rates of up to 10Gbps and mobile data volumes of 10 terabytes per kilometre.
  • Have extremely low latency
    Latency, the time it takes for a data packet to complete a round trip between two given endpoints, will fade into the past, allowing quicker-than-ever feedback between devices. As American mobile carrier Sprint explains, imperceptible latency is the key to razor-sharp VR, ultra-responsive robotics (like those required for bona fide autonomous driving), and even the “tactile internet” that will enable processes like remote surgery—truly the stuff of science fiction.
  • Allow the Internet of Things to take off
    Vestberg predicts that 5G will allow up to 1 million devices per square kilometre to function at full capacity.

What 5G means for Australian businesses

Deloitte report found 60 percent of Australian businesses plan to make the switch to 5G by no later than late 2020 and 98 percent expect to be using 5G at some point. Around three-quarters of surveyed Australian business leaders said faster, more reliable telecommunications would benefit their business. These business leaders were particularly excited about 5G allowing them to use remote workers and engage more profitably with customers.

A 2018 Australian Government Working Paper suggests 5G might become a “General Purpose Technology,” meaning a technology that “becomes ubiquitous in its own right”, like electricity or the internet. Regardless of whether that transpires, the Working Paper predicted 5G would undoubtedly:

  • Support the introduction of many new goods and services
  • Improve business efficiency
  • Facilitate greater innovation
  • Improve health and social outcomes

Aside from the predictable impact of 5G, the Working Paper also noted that “As with any transformative digital technology, there may also be [unforeseeable] distributional effects within and between industries, and across society, as resources are reallocated.”

How IT leaders should prepare

As Spider-Man knew well, with the great power of 5G connectivity comes great responsibility for the IT teams who will run it. With that in mind, IT leaders would be wise to do the following:

1. Review their business’s digital strategy and possibly it’s business model
For instance, will 5G result in industry disruption or at least the arrival of lots of new market entrants
2. Think about the technological opportunities their business will be able to pursue
How can 5G boost workforce productivity and collaboration? How can it be used to make the day-to-day operations of the business more frictionless
3. Work out what 5G equipment to adopt early
Expect to have staff insisting the business is doomed if they aren’t immediately provided with the pricey 5G phone Apple/Samsung/Huawei is about to release. It will fall to the Head of IT to determine what gear is worth investing in asap and what isn’t
4. Rejig cybersecurity
A UK report recently outlined four security mechanisms 5G networks will need to implement: cross-layer security, end-to-end security, cross-domain security, and the concept of secure-by-design (i.e. as the network evolves, security must be built into the design during development)
5. Bone up key skills
Consider sitting down for a refresher lesson on LTE Advance Pro, License Assisted Access (LAA), WiFi Offload and the 5G New Radio (NR) interface in the near future.

Finally, as a bonus pro tip, consider that you might save yourself a lot of headaches by investing in devices and service providers that boast industry-leading cybersecurity.

Short-term pains for world-changing gains

Sci-fi fantasy will morph into reality, with 5G enabling a world of autonomous vehiclestelemedicinerealistic VR, and smart homes, factories, and cities. IT workers will play a large role in birthing this new world, a process that involves lots of hard labour, but one that should prove incredibly rewarding to your business if you’re ready for it.