Is your network ready to take advantage of 5G?

5G will do much more than enabling faster communications: It will cause businesses to fundamentally rethink how they operate

Remember the launch of 3G and the ‘mobile internet’ hype? 5G is being loaded with similarly grandiose expectations. The Financial Times, not known for getting easily excited, has predicted it will be a “game changer for humanity”.

So, what should we believe? Unlike previous upgrades in mobile technology, 5G will do much more than enabling faster communications. It will cause businesses to fundamentally rethink how they operate. The problems we still experience with internet access dropping out should decrease as we switch seamlessly between 5G and Wi-Fi coverage depending on which one provides better service at any given time.

Its faster speed, higher bandwidth, ultra-low latency and reduced power requirements make it ideal for a variety of technologies including real-time applications, pervasive IoT and high-speed data to battery-powered devices like virtual reality headsets. Expect to see technological functionality moving to the edge of the network and enhancements in the way devices communicate with each other or back to the data centre.

In a 5G world you will also be able to increase demands on cloud computing. It will deliver a shot of adrenaline to existing digital transformation efforts, inspiring and supporting new possibilities. It will accelerate network performance while increasing capability to create, store and analyse data.

Industry applications

5G opens many new and exciting possibilities in almost every industry but some will move faster than others. Much of this change centres around the introduction of IoT. Gartner predicts as many as 11.2 billion devices will be connected by the end of this year and more than 20 billion by the end of 2020. 

Nearly 20 per cent of companies plan to run trials this year, with a further 38 per cent in 2019. More than 70 per cent aim to have use cases in production by 2021, suggesting activities will take off fast.

Connected cars – When you’re talking about multi-tonne machines transporting people at high speed, failproof connectivity is key. With 5G, the potential is so dramatic that some, like Intel’s 5G lead, predict that the speed at which connected cars will be able to communicate will eliminate safety concerns and even traffic.

Manufacturing and logistics – How we make and distribute the products that we consume is also set to change. 5G will see IoT devices spreading throughout production systems and supply chains, from the factory floor to roads and oceans. Sensors embedded in manufacturing equipment will detect subtle changes in conditions that increase the chance of equipment failures, enabling predictive maintenance and improving business resilience. Wireless robots will automate repetitive tasks and increase efficiency. It will be easier to know where goods are and what condition they’re in, reducing losses.

Health – We’ll see more widespread use of health-focused applications, especially those that can’t afford to fail – like tools to assist in remote robotic surgery, where any error or latency could cause serious injury or even death. The opportunity to increase preventative healthcare measures and enable more remote treatment is huge.

Smart cities – We’re not just talking about buses and street lights that can communicate, interpret and adapt to the world around them. Even the roads will become digitised. Water and power grids will be embedded with sensors that make them more efficient. Liveability, convenience and environmental benefits are all forecast to grow in the smart cityscape as 5G enables data-driven, real-time adaptability. 

Retail – Retailers are looking at the potential to enable a completely different in-store experience, providing recommendations and pricing that adapts to specific interests and tastes.

Each of these uses requires quite different types of connectivity. Rather than the traditional public network that does its best to service the needs of various uses, network splicing on 5G architecture will enable more intelligent connectivity tailored for specific industrial uses.

Preparing for the impact

In a new survey of more than 550 business leaders, three-quarters (78 per cent) say faster, more reliable mobile telecommunications would benefit their business. It’s forecast that 5G networks will add up to 0.2 per cent to Australia’s productivity every year. That’s about $50 billion in gross domestic product, according to a study produced by Deloitte for Telstra.

For industries with compelling near-term uses, preparing means more than rethinking your business model for IoT installations. Ageing networks are struggling to keep up with the technology demands of today, let alone tomorrow. Installing 5G on current networks would be like putting the latest Formula One tyres on a 15-year-old family car. You’re not going to get the best performance.

A software-defined, cloud-centric platform becomes a necessity in a 5G world, when the sheer number of applications and devices on the network will explode. It allows administrators to focus policies directly at the network edge, where IoT applications reside; it will allow them to manage the complexity and ensure business continuity.

Even with 5G’s advanced capabilities, monitoring the performance of applications is vital to realising value. In fact, it’s even more important as more applications mean more ways for something to go wrong. 

Visibility is key to delivering great app performance. Is it the app or the network? Is it user error? By providing the visibility into every corner of the network - and everything that sits on it and relies on it - and the flexibility to scale resources in minutes, instead of months, these cloud-based platforms become proactive and responsive, as well as resilient. Taking full advantage of the data being collected will support rapid investigation and resolution of issues. This reduces risk, cost and finger pointing while improving productivity.

The introduction of 5G may well be one of the most significance technological advancements this decade – but making the most of applications, devices and data also requires a change in your network infrastructure. Is yours ready?

Sean Kopelke is vice-president, solutions engineering, Riverbed Asia Pacific and Japan.

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