Tech businesses need to prepare for new possibilities of the 5G era

Sep 02, 2020
Technology industry Telecommunications

Imagine a world in which connected machines on a factory floor can communicate with each other in a matter of milliseconds, improving productivity and efficiency; a reality in which autonomous cars glide seamlessly along city streets; a world where consumers receive real-time offers for deals based on which store they are shopping in at that very moment. Now ask yourself whether your business is prepared to take advantage of all the potential this future could unlock.

As major phone carriers continue to roll out infrastructure to enable new 5G networks, it is crucial that technology companies start examining what this next generation of technology will mean for business. 5G, with its much faster speeds and lower latency than 4G, is expected to bring enormous value and new possibilities.

AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile stepped up their work in 2019 to upgrade towers and build out the dense fiber networks required to support 5G, which is already available in some parts of the country and expected to debut soon in many others. Those three carriers spent approximately $50 billion in capital expenditures on 5G infrastructure build-out during 2019, according to research compiled by Bloomberg, and have estimated spending to be $48 billion in 2020 continuing into 2021.

Much like the dawn of 3G networks allowed for the use of smartphone apps to become as ubiquitous as they are today, 5G is expected to mark the beginning of a new ecosystem that will empower technology applications that don’t yet exist on a broad scale. 5G will bring the potential to make the use of virtual reality, connected machines, Internet of Things devices and telehealth apps more widespread and seamless.

Widespread 5G availability means more intelligent systems will be at the core of business operations for companies across all industries. In the tech sector specifically, business leaders need to keep the 5G landscape in mind as they develop and implement new applications and services. The graph below shows that 5G subscriptions are projected to grow to over 170 million by the end of 2023, according to research from Omdia, as consumers and enterprises adopt the latest generation of wireless technology.

The next ecosystem

We expect 5G to be a much bigger game changer for business uses than past network adoptions of 3G and 4G have been. Historically, speeds from wired connections have been faster and more reliable than wireless ones, but 5G will be different. Because 5G is more software-centric, scalability for enterprise use will be easier to achieve. Removing the need to be wired will also allow for a plethora of new applications.

5G, when fully implemented, is poised to be a very big deal, a far bigger transformation in mobile technology than any previous generational shift, 5G’s revolutionary technology will also make possible the kind of disruptive applications that usually leave both investors and users salivating.
Omar Abbosh and Larry Downes, Harvard Business Review

Take sports gambling, for one possible example of such disruption as the Wall Street Journal reported last year. Fans can already gamble using apps on their phones, but those wagers are focused on the result and which team ultimately wins the game. With new network speeds, wireless systems could have the computing power to enable fans in a stadium to bet on every single play, with artificial intelligence that allows this to happen in real time.

Even more data possibilities

All of these new real-time applications and rapid machine learning enabled by 5G will put an even greater emphasis on the importance of data in any business, whether a company uses that data to create a better customer experience or uses it to create more powerful intelligence for the enterprise itself.

Business leaders need to evaluate where their company is on its data journey. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How can we make sure data drives our decision-making?
  • What role does data play in the core product we provide our customers?
  • How can we provide better value to customers using new 5G capabilities?
  • How can we use data in new ways to improve the customer experience?

In the tech sector, companies building consumer-focused apps and tools will be able to develop those apps to interact with customers based on what customers are doing in real time. Envision walking down the cereal aisle in a grocery store, for example, and an app on your phone shows you coupons for the specific brands and products that are right in front of you. Sensors and 5G networks will create the opportunity to connect our devices to our shopping habits to a greater extent than they are already connected, resulting in highly tailored, precise offerings. With this level of personalization, of course, the privacy and security of users’ data will need to be central to these innovative experiences and a top priority for the companies making such experiences possible.

From warehouse robots to remote surgery

Faster connectivity and a wealth of data will be a boon for consumer-focused businesses, yes, but the potential goes much further than that.

As the reality of nationwide 5G draws near, cell phone providers are focusing on conveying the health care and public safety benefits of this new network. In enormous warehouses, free-range robots retrieve items for packing and shipping. Tech companies developing products that enable remote surgery and telehealth could dramatically improve health care in rural areas. At a time when huge swaths of the workforce are doing their jobs from home, 5G-enabled virtual reality platforms could breathe new life into digital collaboration tools.

When we contemplate the possibilities of 5G networks, the list seems almost limitless. But to be able to tap into these possibilities, businesses need to have a thorough understanding of what their current infrastructure allows for, what their vision is for a data-driven enterprise and how they will need to adapt their core business processes to thrive in the data rich environment of the future.

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