What you need to know about 5G this autumn

Over this past summer, 5G has been one of the hot topics in the media. The air is thick with anticipation as the upcoming launch of frequency bands approaches. What should you know about the topic right now, then? In my view, there are three key issues at hand:

1. As services and devices improve, the demand for faster and better connections will continue to grow. These connections are made possible by 5G.

  • The growing amount of video content and sharper image quality require faster connections and increased network capacity (SD -> HD -> 4K -> 360VR/AR).
  • Today, the communications, IT infrastructure, software and real-time analytics of companies are increasingly often cloud-based. Data must be readily accessible from anywhere, which further expands broadband traffic.
  • New kinds of services, from real-time 360 video streaming to remote-controlled excavators, virtual tennis matches and anything in between, require networks with faster speeds and lower latency times.

2. The 5G market will most likely be divided into at least four separate sections or sub-markets, each expected to develop at their own pace.

  • The 5G-based fixed mobile broadband to replace current xDSL or 4G connections for households and small businesses. Commercial applications of the technology will most likely be available already in 2019. It is most relevant in areas with poor availability of fixed-network broadband.
  • A continuation of the 3G and 4G generations with 5G subscriptions that provide faster and higher-quality connections for phones and mobile modems. In this, demand will be steered by the availability of mass-market end user devices. Carriers will begin to offer the subscriptions in 2019, but they are unlikely to grow in popularity until 2020 onwards as compatible end user devices become more readily available.
  • Secure and easy-to-manage IoT connections for a range of uses in industry, services, social welfare and healthcare and consumer devices, such as medical alert bracelets.  IoT technologies for the 4G network (NB-IoT and LTE-M) have been categorised as LPWAN-IoT solutions in 5G. In other words, the technology and many of its applications exist already today.
  • Industry-specific solutions that utilise the new, next-generation capabilities of 5G, such as network slicing, edge computing/ultra-low latency, ultra-high bandwidth). Several exciting pilot studies are underway for these concepts, but their standardisation (3GPP Release 16) and business models are still a work in progress. My estimation is that for these concepts, commercial launch is not expected until 2022 at the earliest.

3. There is no point in delaying investment decisions because of 5G alone.

  • The difference between fourth and fifth-generation connections is not fundamental. Instead, the transition is from a good technology to an even better one. At first, 5G will appear as an additional layer of capacity for the 4G network. Moreover, the initial framework for 5G will be a fully tuned-up 4G network.
  • Right now, 4G and its technical capabilities in terms of speed, latency, power consumption, security and IP addresses are sufficient for the purposes of nearly all widely used consumer and corporate services. Therefore, there is no reason to delay virtualisation or IoT projects simply to wait around for the coming of 5G.