With the recent arrival of the first wireless 5G services, we're now all officially on the highway to adoption. By delivering wireless connectivity up to 100 times faster than anything that has come before, 5G will create new opportunities and new markets and will power the nascent IoT world – signaling the birth of entirely new industries.
Its impact on business and society is expected to be profound – the World Economic Forum predicts it will "be as revolutionary as electricity or the automobile, benefitting entire economies, and entire societies."
As the rollout of 5G progresses, and service providers gradually launch their offerings, it will coexist alongside 4G LTE – a familiar technology that has enabled people worldwide to work, relax, and connect in ways not possible in the legacy 3G world. 4G LTE has been steadily evolving to connect faster than ever before. It has played a pivotal role in creating entirely new digital industries, such as social media while providing the likes of Uber with the means to disrupt traditional markets.
So, this is a good time to be planning ahead, and businesses need to be looking at the opportunities a wireless and 5G-powered wide-area network (WAN) strategy presents, and how to get there. They can make a solid start by following these five foundational steps:
Step one - Create a wireless networking roadmap
As businesses adopt more cloud, mobile, and IoT technologies, the volume, variety, and velocity of WAN endpoints are exploding, and the need for non-stop cloud access grows. As a result, businesses should assess their WAN requirements and roadmap to determine where they can benefit from 4G LTE today, including the replacement of legacy wireline technologies. Not only will organizations reap the benefits that only wireless can bring, but they will gain valuable experience with expanded use of LTE today to prepare them for 5G in the future.
Step two - Gain speed with Gigabit LTE
Since 4G LTE and 5G are designed to coexist for a very long time, LTE is evolving to intersect with 5G in terms of faster speeds and lower latencies. Gigabit-Class LTE uses technologies that will be foundational components of 5G, and as such, can help transform business operations now and provide a baseline wireless WAN in the future.
Gigabit-Class LTE, along with the arrival of unlimited, "no overage" data plans, represents the missing link for many organizations that have been thinking about replacing wired T1 or internet broadband links for rapid deployment and reliability of wireless at their edge locations. LTE has already carved a valuable role as the go-to connection for failover and Day-1 connectivity. But now, it is a viable option for primary WAN connectivity as well. This allows organizations to 'cut the cord' and replace cable and DSL providers – often hundreds that are stitched together to provide a nationwide branch network – with just one or two wireless providers. In doing so, they can also realize a significant reduction in operating costs while experiencing an improvement in WAN uptime.
Step three – Develop a deployment regime
As 5G arrives, it won’t be a big bang that makes it available everywhere companies and individuals need it. Nor will there be one universal form of 5G – different carriers will have different versions leveraging low, mid, and high (millimeter wave or mmW) bands that all have different characteristics in terms of speed, propagation abilities, and proliferation rates. This means that there will be multiple on-premise deployment models for 5G depending on the flavor. For example, mmW will provide the most performance – 1 to 5 Gbps and beyond, but it will require line-of-sight installation on the outside of a building in most cases since even e-glass can significantly impair reception. Mid-band solutions, which are commonly referred to as Sub-6, give up some performance for longer propagation. These can usually be installed inside a building but require placement close to windows for optimum signal reception.
Developing a 5G deployment strategy for the different modalities will be important to ensure cost-effective installations and optimal performance. Additionally, organizations that desire the performance advantage of mmW will want to ensure their wireless network edge provider supports both inside and outside mounted modem solutions.
Step four - Deploy 5G when and where available
As highlighted above, 5G will come in different flavors with different characteristics, each having different rollout timelines from carriers. Therefore, network planners should expect to have a hybrid LTE and 5G WAN for some time and plan accordingly. The good news is that the leading wireless network edge solutions will support LTE, Gigabit-Class, and 5G equally, making the building and management of a hybrid wireless WAN easier, and the transition between different wireless modalities more transparent.
Businesses – especially those with highly distributed and nationwide branch or store footprints – need to map carrier 5G rollout plans against their remote locations to determine their own rollout plans. Where it is available, test the different variants of 5G to understand the real-world potential before rolling it out at scale.
Step five - Measure performance levels
For most businesses looking to leverage 5G for Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) use cases, it’s all about price, performance, agility, and availability over wireline alternatives. Therefore, it’s important to implement a wireless WAN performance management capability that ensures the installation is optimal, that the company is using the right LTE or 5G connectivity at each site, and that the business is getting what it has paid for from its wireless WAN and 5G.
These are exciting times as 5G is slated to deliver the biggest communications transformation since the internet. Maybe even bigger. But on this journey to a faster future, it’s important to prepare for it now by starting to build a wireless WAN with LTE. Gigabit-Class LTE already delivers much of the value that most enterprises are looking to 5G for today – a high-performance that is faster than OC-3 fiber connection but more pervasively deployed. For anyone building a WAN strategy today, being on that wireless highway to 5G can help ensure they are ready for the future.
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