Imagine downloading a whole movie to watch on your personal device in less than a minute. Or experiencing a Super Bowl game from the 50 yard line. Envision travel abroad to a country you’ve always dreamed of, made seamless and immersive by real-time language translation. This is the world of 5G.
That got your attention, didn’t it? Everyone is talking about 5G and its incredible capabilities these days, but 5G is a trend that has been on the horizon for quite a while. It is the next generation of mobile broadband, one that will first supplement and then quickly replace the existing 4G LTE networks. When fully deployed, 5G is expected to be 10 to 100 times faster than 4G.
The upgrade to 5G not only has implications for your company (and personal) cell phones, but for entire industries. This technology could be truly transformative in the next few years, but if you only watch the commercials, you might not understand why it matters to you or your business.
What is 5G Exactly?
Sorry, let me nerd out on you a little. What makes 5G work differently from 4GLTE is that 5G operates on three separate spectrum bands; low-band, mid-band, and high-band spectrum (also known as mmWave.) Each of these spectrums has its own benefits and drawbacks and watching how the big mobile companies decide how to deploy their 5G networks across these options is fascinating in and of itself.
The low-band spectrum is used by all major carriers for LTE, so a big benefit is widespread coverage. However, because data speeds on low-band can’t top 100 Mbps, that’s been seen as a big drawback. However, that hasn’t stopped T-Mobile from purchasing and rolling out a massive, nationwide network on 5G.
The mid-band spectrum is obviously faster than low-band, but it doesn’t penetrate buildings as well as low-band. Sprint owns the majority of the unused mid-band spectrum and has dealt with the issue of penetration and coverage by using Massive Mimo, which groups multiple antennas on a single box and cell tower to create multiple simultaneous beams to users. They have coupled this with Beamforming, which ensures that every user has a focused, monitored, and consistent signal. While these technologies boost the speed of the mind-band spectrum, it still peaks at 1Gbps.
The highest-band spectrum also known as mmWave (millimeter wave) provides the highest performance for 5G, offering top speeds of up to 10Gpbs. But the issue that this option creates is low coverage and building penetration, requiring a high volume of small cells to create an effective network. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have adapted to this by piggybacking off of LTE while they build out their networks using a high-volume of low power base cell stations coupled with beamforming. However, most technologies haven’t caught up to the use of mmWave, meaning that current operating systems can’t maintain the level of service that 5G requires.
5G Coverage vs 4G Coverage
So what does this mean for your coverage, for both your small business and your personal daily use? Can you go out and buy the latest 5G phone and continue on your way?
Well, not quite, unless you have the right phone in the right area. While it is true that LTE carriers are running out of capacity, the 5G network and infrastructure are not yet established enough for a complete transfer of every mobile phone user in the U.S. to 5G. While 5G has been deployed and tested in large cities by all major carriers, it will still be a few years before it is rolled out nationally. A 2019 article reported that more than 60% of major stakeholders involved in 5G network development expected it to become mainstream within two years . . . as in, 2021 . . . and yet 5G is still not fully deployed nationwide. (Check out this 5G coverage map to see if it is available in your city!)
But the potential for 5G is certainly something to get excited about. Once it is fully implemented, it will completely transform the way we interact with technology and with each other online, while continuing to develop new ways to apply 5G. Because 5G serves a higher demand for more bandwidth and efficiency (rather than being developed to serve a specific need as in past network developments), the possibilities for how 5G is applied are truly endless.
What 5G Could Mean for Your Business
What the broad application of 5G means for consumers is enhanced mobile broadband, ultra reliable low latency services, and the massive Internet of Things (IoT), but the potential for more complex applications through 5G include:
- Smart factories that use a combination of automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and the Internet of Things
- Network slicing, an automated approach to developing and managing personalized services to both groups and individual customers.
- Autonomous vehicles that communicate with each other to anticipate and avoid accidents
- Robots that can be controlled and monitored remotely, with applications in medicine, factories, and more
- City management applications such as Improved traffic safety sensors, smart energy grids, automated public transportation, and advanced automatic metering for utilities
- Expansion of online shopping with the use of virtual and augmented reality to “try on” or otherwise “experience” products before purchasing
- Remote control of heavy machinery, to increase human safety in hazardous environments
- Improved and immersive gaming experiences for mobile users
All of these advanced and improved technologies require real-time computation and low latency to accomplish these goals. There is already an urgent demand for applications like virtual reality, industrial automation, and autonomous decision making or AI. 5G is going to be the solution that enables these technologies to perform at peak level.
To dive in more specifically to 5G potential for the industries we serve, 5G has specific applications in the legal and healthcare fields in addition to small business technology.
The incredible download speed of 5G will make discovery (case research) and due diligence more efficient for lawyers and paralegals. Data analysis can happen more quickly and be aided by AI (though there are some ethical considerations to be made.) The legal field will also need to catch up with 5G as it’s many applications will create just as many opportunities to use, abuse, and go to court over this new technology.
For patients in rural areas, improvements in 5G make the possibility of telemedicine a reality. With telehealth and home monitoring systems, doctors can check in on patients, connect through video calls, and submit prescription requests. Wearable tech that provides digital health monitoring will also be improved when upgrades become available through 5G.
For hospitals, large image files can be transmitted quickly and securely through 5G, meaning that patients receive results and treatment recommendations in a more timely manner. 5G will also improve the use of augmented reality, virtual reality, and spatial computing applications that help to advance innovative and minimally invasive treatment.
The incredible speed of 5G is going to revolutionize the way small businesses operate and will unlock more ways for small businesses to attract new customers and retain loyal clients.It will create even more seamless solutions for remote work, with improvements integrated work solutions and file sharing in the cloud. These existing technologies will only be enhanced by 5G speeds.5G also makes it possible for small businesses to experiment with new technologies and improve customer acquisition through the use of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and holographic or 3D presentations.
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“5G could be truly transformative in the next few years, but if you only watch the commercials, you might not understand why it matters to you or your business.”
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