5G Is Transformational but What Are Enterprises to Do with All That Hype?
Strategy is a core telecom management activity, and principles of the Efficiency First® Framework dictate that positioning technology as a strategic contributor to the business means identifying and aligning with the organization’s requirements. This action rationalizes the value of adopting technology, such as 5G, with the business and technology vision needed to establish a sound approach.
It’s hard not to picture 4G wireless as the “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” character in the cart declaring, “But I’m not dead yet!” Telecom service providers have yet to exploit all of 4G’s capabilities but here they are proclaiming the advent of 5G as if 4G had been buried in the mobile connectivity graveyard. Indeed, wireless carriers, forever in search of more revenue, love their hype as much as they love the next new smartphone. And often their enthusiasm comes off like a fanboys club for marketing and jargon, giving little in the way of meaningful education and insight. Which is why all the recent, seemingly relentless, talk of 5G may have enterprise leaders shaking their heads and wondering what they need to know – if anything – about the upcoming wireless standard and how to manage it.
Even as operators worldwide continue to fine-tune 4G speeds and capabilities, the next iteration of mobility is set to debut around the world by 2020, if not sooner. For example, South Korea’s KT plans to offer trial 5G service during the 2018 Winter Olympics. And Italy’s TIM expects to connect 3,000 users to its pilot network in Turin by the end of next year. Meanwhile, providers in the United States are testing, tweaking and talking up their capabilities. AT&T will launch experimental 5G in Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis this year, and Verizon is rolling out free dry runs this month to select users in 11 cities.
Much of the buzz around 5G focuses on its promise to provision faster speeds with more capacity and less latency than 4G. But enterprises may be reaching the “so what?” stage. After all, at some point, speed is speed. Right? Yes and no. The key with 5G is not to mistake it as just another tier of wireless connectivity.
It holds much more promise than that. Don’t get sucked into carriers’ hype but know that 5G will indeed prove “transformational,” said Eric Januszko, principal consultant and virtual CIO at Januszko Studios. Brandon Hampton, director of mobility management at vCom Solutions, agreed. 5G, he said, “has the potential to be the biggest game changer.” And Steve Haddock, vice president of alliances at Webbing Inc., said 5G will “change the way we work today.”
How will 5G accomplish all this? By using spectrum in ways that existing wireless technologies cannot. The in-depth explanation is arcane and intricate, and does little to inform enterprises what 5G means for them. This article does not focus on the “how,” then; rather, it addresses what 5G will help organizations do differently and better, and provides some steps to take to prepare for the eventual shift.
Call Paths Galore. Because 5G opens the number of call paths on a tower from double digits to multiples of that, enterprises will see two big benefits: a viable last-mile replacement, something Hampton thought “would happen many years ago,” and easier, cheaper access to the Internet of Things. To the first point, carriers have been reluctant to use fixed wireless for the last mile because that tactic eats up a call path, of which a limited number are available with 4G. “When there are only 48 call paths on a tower, they don’t want two or three taken up by fixed wireless,” vCom’s Hampton said.
As a result, pricing has stayed prohibitive. However, 5G will increase the number of paths “exponentially,” Hampton said, lowering costs and boosting speeds, giving organizations a new option for last-mile connectivity. Januszko concurred, calling 5G’s last-mile capabilities “a huge benefit to disaster recovery and business continuity plans.”
IoT for the Masses. Multiple call paths – something like 5,000 per tower, Hampton said – also mean easier, cheaper inroads to IoT. This bodes well for the enterprises throughout the various vertical markets that have wanted to take advantage of IoT but have hesitated because of cost and logistics. Battery life ranks as one of IoT’s biggest constraints, Webbing’s Haddock said, and 5G will come to the rescue.
The wireless standard offers the potential to leave an (unspecified) IoT unit in the field for 10 years without having to recharge it because 5G pulls less power than its predecessor, he said. “This allows people to really think to the next level, to remove those obstacles of yesterday and think what can be possible,” said Haddock. The use cases within IoT also expand with 5G.
Think about this: Recent findings from vendor Huawei show that a self-driving car connected to a 4G network travels four feet at 60 mph before receiving a new command. That’s more than enough time to run a red light, rear-end another vehicle or get into countless other dangerous or fatal situations. Once 5G arrives, “we’re talking one millisecond at 60 mph or traveling less than one inch” because of the reduced latency, Haddock said.
No More Wi-Fi? 5G also means, of course, ramped-up speeds. The hook for enterprises may not be so much that video and internet will flow faster, but that 5G pricing may become so affordable as to allow them to eliminate reliance on public Wi-Fi, with all its known bugs and insecurities, sources say. That kind of move appears way off because pricing likely will stay high for a while until 5G becomes more commoditized. Regardless, Januszko said, 5G “is going to put pressure on traditional Wi-Fi” because it will be just as fast, if not faster. When that happens, organizations might go “full wireless” for all devices, he said, a move that would change CapEx discussions entirely. Firms intrigued by the notion of replacing Wi-Fi with 5G “want to start thinking about it now and planning out some test cases,” Januszko said.
What About BYOD? Januszko doubts 5G will impact enterprises here. “Nobody has a company-provided phone anymore so the consumer probably will have access to 5G before the enterprise does,” he said. Instead, the bigger benefits of 5G will surround the Wi-Fi discussion and productivity gains.
QoS PDQ. Finally, 5G will give organizations the ability to look at the quality of service for each line, Haddock said. The telecom/IT/mobility management team will be able to view congestion levels, for example, and have much more defined, virtualized, cloud-centric services. 5G also will provide different levels of service based on the need for low latency on certain applications, Haddock said. All of this will help enterprises maximize their investments and offer better customer service, a scenario that in an ideal world leads to higher revenue.
In terms of determining when and how enterprises should adjust their mobile expense and lifecycle management strategies for 5G, it’s just too soon to say. In the United States alone, AT&T and Verizon Wireless are at least a year away from full deployment. However, that doesn’t mean that telecom/IT/mobility management groups don’t need to start figuring out how to tackle 5G management – they do, now. “The number of devices you’ll have to track is just going to grow,” Hampton said. “It’s going to get more complex and bigger and harder to manage.”
In fact, Januszko said, any organization with a fiscal year that extends into 2018 needs to think about 5G management now. That’s because while some of the technology might available next year, it will start hitting its stride in 2019-2020.
As for which management strategies will need to change, those aspects remain unknown. For his part, Haddock isn’t convinced much will differ compared to 4G. “I think you’re going to get into a place where you’re looking more toward fixed costs and how to allocate those as opposed to having to pay by usage,” he said.
If more enterprises want to eschew public Wi-Fi in favor of more secure 5G connectivity, as Januszko predicts, now is the time to think about that. Shift the dollars assigned to Wi-Fi into a different category and decide which assets to depreciate or axe altogether, to find “some mad money to work with this,” Januszko said. “If I want to be competitive in the market, I’d better have some money to work on that.” The telecom/IT/mobility management team must be able to build the business case for 5G, especially any Wi-Fi replacement, to present to the CFO and CIO. Preparing this year will smooth out the “bumpy, choppy ride” Januszko says 5G will create over the next 18-24 months. “I guarantee competitors are doing the same thing,” he said.
Overall, 5G means new possibilities for everyone. That said, there’s still a lot service providers can be doing to enhance 4G’s capabilities; 5G won’t just arrive and change everything. “Beware the hype but also be aware of the hype,” Januszko said. Nonetheless, 5G does represent a step in the evolution of mobility innovation. “It’s exciting,” Haddock said. “It’s crazy to think back to when 3G first launched and how far wireless has advanced, and what we’re able to do to communicate and enrich our lives. It’s great to see the enhancements and I’m excited to see where 5G will take us next.”
— Kelly Teal, Editor-in-Chief, AOTMP Telecom Management Industry Update
This blog is part of the April 5, 2017 issue of Telecom Management Industry Update. Download a .pdf here.