Although 5G is widely viewed as a technology of the future, this won't be the case for much longer. Major carriers such as AT&T and Verizon are already beginning to deploy 5G services, and with the FCC recently limiting municipalities' time-window for reviewing 5G equipment, it won't be long before the technology enters the mainstream.
For enterprises, 5G promises a faster, more data-driven digital workplace. "Businesses are looking for ways to do work more efficiently or in ways that were never before possible," observed Alok Shah, vice president of networks strategy at Samsung Electronics America. "Whether it’s improved preventative maintenance in a factory or more effective video security in a warehouse, companies need solutions that can transport large amounts of data to the cloud and then make sense of it."
5G is expected to transform the way things get done by bringing fiber-like speeds and extremely low latency capabilities to almost any location. "Manufacturers will be able to deploy sensors throughout their factories and quickly analyze [data] to improve efficiency," Shah explained. "Construction companies will be able to remotely control equipment from a control center to improve worker safety." All workplaces will be able to train employees with advanced 4K AR (artificial reality) and VR (virtual reality) systems, he added.
The benefits of 5G will be subtle and spread across all the business activities that an employee conducts over a mobile device connected to a mobile data network, noted Chris Koeneman, senior vice president of strategic solutions at wireless network service provider Mobi. "Any specialized business application that requires a great deal of bandwidth will benefit significantly by 5G."
In the workspace, a millimeter wave 5G network can be seen as an attractive alternative to Wi-Fi. "It can provide high throughput as is required in the workplace and, at the same time, maintain the QoS (quality of service)," said R. Ezhirpavai, vice president of technology at the design and engineering firm Aricent. "This will allow seamless mobility inside the workplace with guaranteed QoS at high bandwidth."
Along with its potential benefits, 5G also opens some fresh workplace concerns. Over the next few years, new devices, applications, and operating systems will appear at an ever-faster clip. "In this new world, the biggest BYOD challenge everyone will be discussing is: Can I trust this device on my network and will it have the potential to disrupt my business?" predicted Wayne Cheung, service provider marketing director at Juniper Networks.
5G could also create a new and nettlesome financial challenge for enterprises that routinely cover mobile network costs for their BYOD users. "5G will be more expensive, and this may drive a re-evaluation of how this expense should be covered by the employer," Koeneman said.
More importantly, future 5G millimeter wave adopters will face a potentially expensive deployment challenge created by the technology's very high attenuation rate. "One needs to deploy massive MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) antennas and place the antennas in such a manner that they cause minimal interference," Ezhirpavai explained. "Also, since [a] macro 5G network may not easily penetrate inside buildings, there has to be multiple small cells to handle in-building deployments."
All 5G adopters must consider the condition of their existing wired network infrastructure. "[They] need to start making sure their LANs are ready for all these new technologies, deploying fiber solutions with power distribution as opposed to what has been done in LANs to date," said Ed Fox, vice president of network services and head of the customer innovation labs at network and telecom services provider MetTel. "They need to start future-proofing that part of their networks today."
5G's arrival also raises a need for even stronger security measures. "There is no doubt that 5G increases the attack surface because it will enable/support new services," Cheung said. "There will be plenty more ways for the bad guys to enter networks and get into workplace environments."
Cheung suggested taking a "predictive" approach to 5G security. "Just as operations was an afterthought to development, leading to a DevOps world, security must be discussed at the same time a new idea is being discussed," he explained. "Everyone must work collaboratively to solve the biggest issue facing the success of innovation in a 5G world."
Enterprises need to focus on using 5G to solve specific problems as opposed to racing to become one of the first adopters, Fox said. "They also need to very carefully evaluate if 5G is actually needed for [their] applications, or which pieces of the 5G ecosystem may fit, without worrying about the hype," he noted.