I have little doubt that 5G will be a catalyst for incredible innovation in how we live and work — but not for every industry, business or function.
5G certainly is getting its share of headlines, from carriers rushing to announce commercial availability to promises of being able to download a full-length movie in seconds, beaming avatars into meetings and other futuristic applications.
When augmented and virtual reality technologies burst onto the scene years ago, they promised to transform our lives. While we’ve been reading about their transformative workplace abilities, very few industries have yet to realize their full potential and may still be years away from doing so — if they ever can.
Similarly, 5G promises an accelerated path to digital transformation. For example, 5G’s ability to deliver data faster and with greater bandwidth, lower latency and higher density will help accelerate digital transformation by giving us access to more data and faster decisions, facilitating the creation of new services that will allow companies in both the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) spaces to interact with customers in ways previously thought unimaginable.
Although 5G will accelerate our ability to gain insights from more devices and machines and enable advances in, for example, robotic surgery, it is my experience that many enterprise customers are still seeking answers to some intrinsically important questions.
While the number of companies deploying the necessary infrastructure may be low, the hype is at an all-time high. Research published by Gartner estimates that “7% of CSPs worldwide have already deployed 5G infrastructure in their networks” and predicts that 5G will account for 12% of the total wireless infrastructure revenue of CSPs in 2020. According to the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 5G is near what it calls the “peak of inflated expectations.”
I live in the IT trenches with customers every day and hear a lot of “inflated expectations” about 5G and its polarizing effect. I believe many business leaders either have unrealistic expectations that 5G will change their company and customers’ lives or are taking a “wait and see” approach before investing.
Here are three of the most frequent misconceptions I often hear, as well as tips to help navigate the nascent 5G landscape.
1. We are going totally wireless in the office, and 5G will be our local network of choice.
Before your organization can realize the full benefits of 5G, your internal infrastructure needs to be evaluated to determine if it can support 5G technology. For organizations looking to benefit from 5G’s eventual rollout, setting up a private network, rather than looking to carriers to provide a public network, might be the way to go.
Some of the first movers on setting up private 5G networks include factories, stadiums and warehouse networks. For other applications such as the internet of things (IoT), video, fixed wireless, edge intelligence and industrial applications, businesses might also want to explore options beyond what a public 5G infrastructure can provide.
2. 5G technology will help kick-start our digital transformation.
It’s true that 5G will enable transformation currently not available with present-day networks. At Mobile World Congress earlier this year, a doctor conducted what was billed as “the world’s first 5G surgery” thanks to the speed and real-time capabilities of 5G.
5G will certainly accelerate the amount of data we have access to, from connected devices to autonomous cars, and while some 5G-enabled devices are available now, we can expect to see broader carrier coverage and 5G-capable devices in late 2021 and beyond. However, that doesn’t mean you should wait to start planning for 5G.
Protect your digital transformation plans by linking them to specific business outcomes, and allow 5G to be another technology enabler for your strategies. One simple way to do this is to evaluate your SD-WAN, LAN and in-building wireless capabilities to ensure they can support your growing digital needs and the coming 5G data deluge.
3. We are placing our IoT plans on hold. Why do it now when 5G will be here next year?
According to a Gartner survey, 66% of organizations have plans to deploy 5G by 2020, and IoT communications will be the most popular use case for 5G. However, from my experience, waiting for 5G before deploying technology isn’t wise. In fact, you could deploy a new solution that immediately meets or exceeds your business objectives with existing technology.
Preparing for 5G now based on your business objectives can result in exponential improvements in speed, service, mobile user experience, reliability, security, automation and energy efficiency. Here’s a quick checklist to help organizations prepare for 5G:
• Audit your network infrastructure to determine its 5G readiness. Can your local network support multi-gig devices? Does your IoT project require the bandwidth that 5G radios will provide?
• Digital transformation strategies need to be aligned with, but not critically reliant upon, pending 5G capabilities.
• 5G will significantly increase the amount of data crossing your network. Ensure that your WAN can handle the traffic. Be aware that most public 5G signals will not penetrate office buildings. Strengthen cybersecurity protocols, and prepare for IoT and mobility at 5G speeds, as threat actors will be able to do 100 times more damage in the same amount of time.
There’s undoubtedly a lot of hype right now about 5G. As it becomes widely available, new applications will flourish that I believe will truly revolutionize how we live and work. In the meantime, do what you can to prepare, and don’t let the promise of 5G slow down your digital transformation projects. Rather, move them forward at an accelerated pace with the forethought that 5G may not be ubiquitously available for your plans unless you deploy the 5G solution yourself!
This article was originally featured in Forbes.