Technical Writer at 5G.co.uk
Sarah Wray is a technical writer with over 10 years' experience writing about technology, including telecoms, smart cities, data, IoT, aerospace, and more.
5G is the next evolution - fifth generation - in mobile networks. As well as being much faster than previous ‘G’s, it is also set to open up lots of new use cases for mobile data – and that, hopefully, means new business opportunities.
These include the potential to launch brand new products and services which weren’t possible before, moving into new markets and increasing productivity.
Some countries such as South Korea, China, Japan and the US are looking to launch 5G networks later this year (2018) or early next. In the UK, rollout isn’t set to begin until 2020, according to the government’s 5G strategy, though some network operators may start rolling it out in late 2019.
But while it might be a way off it’s worth knowing what 5G may be able to offer your business, so you can start preparing. You’ll find information on the business benefits – and how to prepare for it - below.
Before we move onto the benefits of 5G for businesses we have laid out the key features of 5G technology.
5G is set to be much faster than previous generation networks – some are saying as much as 100 times faster than existing 4G networks. To get more specific, 5G may offer speeds as fast as 10Gb/s. This would mean the ability to download a full HD movie in under 10 seconds on a 5G network, compared to 10 minutes on 4G. Some estimates see 5G being even faster than that.
5G will also have much lower latency. We’ll see much less delay or lag when we’re using our phones and other devices. With 4G networks, latency is typically around 40-50 milliseconds. With 5G it should be 1 millisecond or less, which is undetectable to the user.
5G will have greater capacity, meaning the networks will be able to cope better with many high-demand applications all at once - from connected cars and IoT (Internet of Things) devices to virtual reality experiences and simultaneous HD video streaming.
5G is expected to be ‘ultra-reliable’, meaning no dropped calls or connectivity, which will allow more ‘critical’ use cases such as those related to digital health and connected cars.
5G networks promise to be more flexible -- network slicing allows a physical network to be divided into multiple virtual networks so the operator can use the right ‘slice’ depending on the requirements of the use case.
While all this sounds like it might drain your battery pretty quickly, actually 5G is being tipped to extend the battery life of devices by up to ten times.
These features could bring a number of benefits for businesses of all sizes. According to a study from Qualcomm, by 2035, 5G could underpin up to $12.3 trillion (£9.3 trillion) worth of goods and services in industries such as retail, healthcare, education, transportation, entertainment and more.
Qualcomm reckons the 5G value chain will generate up to $3.5 trillion (£2.65 trillion) in revenue in 2035, and support as many as 22 million jobs. Qualcomm has also forecast that 5G will boost global GDP growth by $3 trillion (£2.27 trillion) cumulatively from 2020 to 2035.
A report from PSB Research, which surveyed over 3,500 people including business decision leaders, analysts and tech enthusiasts, found that as a result of 5G:
Some say that projections such as these are over-hyped and we won’t see all these advantages at once. It could be 2022 or beyond before we have widespread 5G coverage in the UK.
Still, here are some of the ways 5G could benefit businesses:
Qualcomm’s study, The 5G Economy, concludes that 5G will “catapult” mobile to become a ‘general purpose technology’ on a par with electricity and the car. This, Qualcomm says, will have a transformational impact on the economy and many industries.
A key benefit of 5G could be helping businesses work more quickly and more efficiently – in turn, saving costs and increasing revenue.
Although remote working has been on the business agenda for well over a decade, it hasn’t quite taken off as much as people thought it would. While part of this is a cultural issue in businesses, it’s also been a technology issue. Conference calls are still quite stilted and often awkward, for example. AR, VR and seamless connectivity could make remote meetings feel as if you’re in the same room finally.With 5G, businesses will have constant unbroken access to a fast, reliable internet connection. To all intents and purposes, it will be like having an extremely good Wi-Fi hotspot covering the entire developed world.
Many countries, including the UK, are looking to 5G to better connect rural communities, allowing more people to start businesses from home and opening up opportunities. That’s key, as data from Ofcom finds that geographically, only 63% of the UK has mobile data coverage from all of the four main providers. 5G RuralFirst, a UK Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) project between the private sector, government and academia, is exploring rural business opportunities enabled by 5G, such as agriculture, broadcasting, and utilities.
The augmented and virtual reality applications that 5G is expected to support could have significant applications in various industries – particularly retail, property, entertainment, gaming, manufacturing and tourism. ABI Research estimates that the AR and VR market will reach $292 billion (£221 billion) by 2025.
With network slicing, it will be possible for a business to practically own their own private 5G network, precisely set up according to its specific business needs. 5G will certainly have much greater capacity across a much wider range of spectrums, but it will also use that space more intelligently, assigning only the resources necessary for each application.
The shift from a hardware to a software-based network environment will bring about lower overheads for mobile operators. Those savings will in turn be able to be passed on to business customers.
These ‘smart buildings’ will be able to employ small radio sensors to monitor occupancy, lighting and temperature. CCTV footage of those office spaces will be able to be streamed live to mobile devices. All in all, this will help provide more flexible, efficient, secure and ultimately cheaper work spaces for small businesses to operate in.
Smart and automated transport, finally enabled by a stable and fast mobile network, will ensure that there’s significantly less time wasted commuting. Even while using this more efficient transportation, speedy mobile connectivity on public transport will enable employees to work more effectively during commutes and other out-of-office travel.
These are some examples of how specific industries could benefit thanks to 5G.
Deloitte estimates that the UK market for digital health will grow to £2.9 billion in 2018, and this is just the beginning. Services such as remote and robotic surgery are developing fast. Remote patient monitoring and patient records access are advancing rapidly too.
The hope is that services such as these will free up resources and offer greater convenience, independence and choice for patients.
A forecast from O2 suggests that 5G will free up 1 million hours of GP time and represent up to £1.3 billion in productivity gains thanks to reduced workplace absence.
Transforming the healthcare industry will also offer new business opportunities for various types of businesses, including telcos, app developers, pharmaceutical companies, wearable device manufacturers, government health organisations, insurance companies and more.
Manufacturing companies around the world are facing pressures to deliver products faster and more cheaply. On top of this, products are often becoming more complex too. At the same time, some industries have an ageing workforce and are concerned about a skills drain.
5G is expected to usher in automation like never before in manufacturing, creating smart factories that will make processes more efficient and cut costs. This also, of course, brings a risk of job losses and the jury is out on whether industrial automation will leave people out of work or free them up to do more creative tasks.
Augmented reality, enabled by 5G, will also bring benefits for manufacturers, opening up further opportunities for digital twins and remote maintenance, for example.
5G is expected to usher in self-driving vehicles, as well as making smart traffic lights even more intelligent, reducing the time waiting in traffic. In theory, in the future, people will be able to work as they travel by car.
Better connectivity is hopefully coming to trains with 5G too. Matt Hancock, Minister for Digital, has said that by 2025, every train should achieve speeds of 1 Gigabit Per Second (Gbps). In Japan last year Samsung completed a 5G demonstration on a moving train in partnership with Japanese telecommunications carrier KDDI. The trial saw peak speeds of 1.7Gbps and successfully demonstrated 8K video downloading on-board, as well as 4K video upload.
Freight and logistics should also benefit. Enabling low-latency vehicle-to-vehicle communications and vehicle to roadside infrastructure communications is a key driver for the deployment of 5G, according to ABI Research.
Driverless trucks and lorries are forecast to potentially be on the roads in the next 10 years. Trials on public roads are under way in many regions including the US and the EU.
Mobile AR shopping experiences will revolutionise retail, with customers able to visualise products in a local environment. In-store, AR will enable shoppers to view additional information on a product simply by pointing their phones at it.
Retail businesses will also be able to benefit from connected smart parking allocation systems, which will help encourage more potential customers into urban areas. Something similar is already being used successfully in Los Angeles, but with 5G connectivity such a smart system could become far more widespread.
And 5G’s improved connectivity will encourage the discovery of local businesses, and the online exploration of their apps and services from users’ smart devices. With the eradication of performance issues and the expected easing of data prices, it will be possible to make those gateway services much richer and more enticing.
5G deployment will be a gradual process and it will exist alongside and in tandem with LTE-A 4G, low power wide area network (LPWAN) and other technologies. So any new IT project should ensure systems are forward-compatible and can transition to 5G as it becomes available.
With that in mind, you may want to transfer any systems or services at the heart of your business into the cloud ahead of 5G’s arrival. The next-generation mobile network will utilise a high degree of virtualisation, so any business - no matter how small - that reduces its reliance on local mainframes will have an instant leg up.
It might be helpful to appoint an internal person or team who will ‘own’ 5G in your organisation and take the lead in plotting your 5G roadmap. 5G will impact every part of the business and must be considered from every angle. What new products and services might 5G open up for your business? Start planning now to get first-mover advantages. Will you be able to free up office space? Look at when building leases are due to expire and consider not renewing those where 5G is likely to be available and remote working a possibility.
Get ready for a new relationship with your telecoms providers. Will your current provider be in a position to deliver 5G to your area or should you start preparing to work with new ones? The 5G operator will play a much more important role for businesses in future and they must pivot from being consumer-centric operators to working with businesses to understand and meet their needs. Consider which operator(s) might best meet your needs and reach out to start the collaborative process that will be needed to develop useful 5G services for your business. Wherever you’re located in the country, be realistic about when 5G might be commercially available and plan accordingly.
Starting to plan for 5G now will reap rewards when 5G becomes a reality. We’ll continue to track developments in the market and give you the information you need to understand and exploit 5G to maximise the potential of your business.
5G is tipped to bring advantages to businesses large and small, although it won’t happen overnight.
If it delivers everything it promises to, many expect the introduction of 5G to underpin the fourth industrial revolution – Industry 4.0, where everything is connected, processed and digitised. This is set to transform and advance many existing industries, as well as creating new ones.