Are we ready for 5G?

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6 min read

Most countries are getting ready for 5G technology to be competitive in the digital race. But what exactly is possible and how far are we regarding a mainstream use of 5G technology?

Content:

  1. What is 5G?
    1. Advantages of 5G
    2. Disadvantages of 5G
    3. High-, Mid-, and Low-Band 
  2. What are typical 5G use cases?
  3. Be smart about your 5G strategy

What is 5G?

5G is the description for the fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks. The deployment of 5G began in 2019 and is still ongoing.

5G will be faster than 4G and also promises more reliability (e.g., less network problems). This is achieved by the use of higher-frequency radio waves which in turn requires more geographic cells since the physical range is usually shorter.

Experts are confident that the full introduction of 5G technologies can revolutionize the way we use the internet of things and connect and use devices.

The advantages of 5G

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  • A higher bandwidth and faster connection speed which is especially attractive in areas with a high broadband uptake.
  • Data exchange is more robust and less prone to be interrupted (aka: high reliability)
  • Possibility to connect a large number of devices to share data in real-time (which also profits from the robust and uninterrupted data exchange, especially in risk situations)
  • The higher speed does not take more energy, which reduces costs and is more sustainable

The disadvantages of 5G

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However, the disadvantages are part of the reason why 5G adoption has taken a little longer and why many companies and organizations still struggle to see the possibilities of the technology.

  • Higher-frequency radio cells also need to be closer together, otherwise, the connection speed drops dramatically and also can be disrupted by obstructing buildings
  • The bigger number of required cells also means that the costs are higher. According to a report by McKinsey & Company (PDF) from 2020, investments in 5G might be up to four or even five times higher than 4G investments. However, the report also stresses that these costs will decrease in the future.
  • A slower adoption will also mean that mainstream use and general use cases might take longer.
  • For 5G technology to gain traction, new microchips need to be developed and produced. However, with current supply chain issues impacting chip production and shipment, this could pose a problem in the long run.
  • Since 5G plans will start in bigger cities, then occur main transport routes and only then expand to rural areas, it might take years for 5G to be at full coverage country wide.

Youtuber Marques Brownlee performed an interesting test in 2019, with a 5G-ready phone and a cell tower.

 

Now, since the test was done in 2019, it's very likely that both coverage and performance would be better now since the technology has developed since then. But the test shows quite successfully how sensitive high-quality (millimeter wave = high-band) 5G is when it comes to distance from cells as well as obstructions (even bad weather such as rain storms).

  1. The potential speed is outstanding, with achieving download speed of up to 2,1GB per second.
  2. However, moving further away from the cell, the download speed decreased fast and was even disrupted by buildings (which could be a problem in cities).

High-, Mid-, and Low-Band 

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This test and the biggest advantages both concern high-band 5G but there are also low- and mid-band 5G connections which have a much farther reach. They do perform less outstanding than high-band but they still deliver a much higher connection speed than 4G. According to telecommunication providers, the plan is to build low- and mid-band networks for immediate connections for more households and then slowly add high-bands, which offer internet at an incredible speed but only in closer proximity.


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What are typical 5G use cases?

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5G can be one of the greatest advancements in many digital environments, offering highspeed internet that could revolutionize data processing and sharing and therefore push topics such as the Internet of Things, smart cities & cars as well as social connections forward.

Since high-speed 5G currently is limited to smaller areas, an attractive use case involves smart machinery and smart factory concepts on production sites. With the technology being able to connect a massive amount of devices and process big data in real-time with a high reliability, manufacturing, science, but also healthcare (e.g., in hospitals) can profit enormously from 5G usage.

McKinsey forecasts that the Industry 4.0 segment will profit most (by a mile) from 5G Internet of Things applications (forecast for 2030). Topics such as smart cities, smart energy, connected offices, smart security, and connected health are the other five main segments.

Examples:

  • Autonomous systems in factories for manufacturing, monitoring and maintenance
  • Monitoring in public spaces or for environmental/scientific purposes
  • Smart grid control
  • Building management (via sensors & video surveillance)
  • Emergency services & communication
  • Mobile medical monitoring & remote surgery
  • Smart retail (e.g., payment, individualized service, virtual changing rooms, etc.)

It's obvious that any industry that is in the field of production will benefit not only from the opportunities of 5G but also be able to develop new business models with it. This can span industries from telecommunication services to manufacturing up to healthcare and life science.

But I'd wager that even industries that McKinsey did not focus on as much could leverage the new opportunities that come with 5G technologies, especially when high-quality cells are nearby.

Retail, FMCG & Luxury

5G close to shopping malls or other cultural/lifestyle hotspots can be used to implement numerous mobile journeys, devices to interact with the environment and make use of virtual and augmented reality. Especially interactive devices such as virtual dressing rooms or endless aisles (basically a digital shopping catalog in a store, giving an overview of all products) could be used more successfully if they are faster and have a stronger connection.

Healthcare

Hospitals and other healthcare environments just as well as academic institutions and scientific organizations can hugely profit from the speed and power of 5G to process data in real-time, monitor, forecast, and even handle equipment via mobile connections.

Logistics and Transport

Logistic and transport centers (such as harbors, airports, warehouses) could be able to centralize its tracking data and synchronize in real-time. This way, systems can track any incoming information and detect possible tensions early on to activate solutions even before a situation becomes a problem.

Be smart about your 5G strategy

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As with every new technology, 5G has a big potential. However, to make proper use of it, companies and organizations need to:

  • inform themselves about the real opportunities and limits of 5G
  • identify real-life use cases that could be optimized/implemented with 5G
  • define the ROI of investment in 5G development and resources
  • decide on a pilot to test out adoption with a low risk/high reward result

Although early adopters are usually celebrated in any industry and market, not every company and organization has the proper use cases and means to do so. It is therefore smart to research business cases and do the math of investment vs. win before deciding on a 5G project. As with all new technologies, there are definitely advantages - depending on the business, target groups, and markets - to wait for standardized solutions that are easier to implement and decrease the risk of investment.


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by Juliane Waack

Juliane Waack is Editor in Chief at DIGITALL and writes about the digital transformation, megatrends and why a healthy culture is essential for a successful business.

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