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Considerations for the Use of 5G in the Enterprise

Finally, fifth-generation cellular networks, known as 5G is being deployed in the United States by some carriers. What should enterprises do to evaluate them and when should they become serious about deploying it.

The technical reasons for using 5G can range from additional speeds in excess of 1 gigabit per second and low latency down to a few milliseconds.

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While those are all nice, we need to remember to examine the business requirements of an enterprise and determine whether current technologies are sufficient to meet the needs within the period the needs occur. We also need to decide whether one wants to be an early adopter of new technologies to gain experience at the cost of some inconvenience. Let’s look at the issues and see if current LTE is enough or if 5G is needed.

Speed: People may not realize that current 4G LTE can support rapid speeds. Maximum download LTE speeds above 200 Mbps and averaging close to 40 Mbps are possible with the major carriers. For most mobile data needs and applications, I suspect it will be sufficient. Except for some special cases such as sharing mobile data connections via WiFi with many users, regular LTE should be sufficient for single users.

Latency: This is an area where 5G’s few milliseconds of latency has an edge compared to 4G which can have latency ranging around 30 milliseconds. The important question to ask is whether the applications require such low latency. I can imagine connected cars using this speed to communicate with edge computing nodes located in the field to rapidly react to events detected by cars. But those apps are still either in early development stages or under evaluation. I think is it’s worthwhile to consider 5G capabilities when planning for future applications, but there is no immediate need to jump to 5G if low latency is not needed.

Standards: 5G may sound like a common standard, but there are small variations between carriers. While the variations may not affect end-users, it may indicate that the transition may take a while. Ask whether the carrier uses the intermediate 5GTF standard or the official 3GPP 5G and whether upgrades are required if and when a transition to 3GPP 5G occurs.

Coverage: The early stage nature of 5G technologies means that there isn’t widespread coverage that one gets from today’s LTE. Not only is 5G service still nascent, but they will also require more antennas than in current LTE to provide similar coverage. Even if an enterprise wants 5G today, it may not be possible in many remote locations. This can be a deal breaker until coverage improves.

Fixed vs. mobile: Fixed wireless refers to wireless equipment that’s tied to a location, such as a field office, as opposed to being in a moving vehicle or person. Fixed wireless may be a pragmatic way to experience 5G technologies in a pilot test before widespread deployment. 5G modems may be too large or power hungry for mobile uses, but those considerations may not matter for fixed locations. An office may want a speedy alternative to cable internet service, and 5G may be an effective way to get such service. The 5G connection can then distribute the data via WiFi in the field office to multiple users. Note that LTE service can be fast too, but may not be fast enough for shared access in a field office.

In summary, there is no compelling need to jump on a full near-term adoption of 5G, but measured adoption of 5G via practical use-cases such as fixed wireless will enable enterprises to get the experience and taste of what it is to come. But definitely keep 5G in mind as new wireless business uses arise.

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