5G: The Hopeful Future and Reality of Today
Updated: Mar 4
The 5G launch is already well underway in a few countries where telecommunication companies have implemented the new network in multiple locations. Just like with the introduction of 4G in 2010, 5G technology will be transformative for multiple sectors from retail, to transportation, healthcare, and education. 5G will deliver new value to consumers’ day-to-day lives. One example of the benefits is how 5G has the potential to improve the way content is consumed and distributed.
So what is 5G and how does it differ from the current cellular signals we use?
5G, literally standing for fifth generation, utilizes high frequency millimeter wave spectrums to deliver high data rates, reduced latency, and the potential for higher concentrations of devices. One outstanding new feature is the usage of massive MIMO (multiple input multiple output), allowing the usage of multiple base stations to follow a user and beam the signal to them (Qualcomm). With MIMO, telecommunication companies hope to overcome the relative short range by tracking and targeting users using three or more towers and switching those as you move. When combined, these technologies have the potential to drastically improve connectivity and revolutionize the way people interact with the world. Companies need to start preparing now for how new customer behaviors that will arise. This blog and the next one explore 5G’s potential, what it means for consumers, and where innovative companies should be acting now to prepare.
A Whole New Customer Experience
A common complaint with any telecommunication company centers around the speed and responsiveness of the network. Nothing is more infuriating to customers than slow internet speeds and flaky connections. 5G promises to drastically reduce such complaints with speeds from 1-10GB/s and latencies as low as 1 ms. 4G, by comparison, had speeds of 300 MB/s - 1GB/s with 50ms latencies. Say goodbye to the era of buffering and slow web pages (DigitalTrends). With such major changes in speed and latency, new and existing technologies will evolve to allow new ways to engage with content and improve our lives.
One of these evolutionary steps will be in marketing. Over the past decade, marketing and ads have turned from broad-spectrum full-page magazine spreads to a more personalized and curated approach enabled by mobile, personal devices. A next evolutionary step will be the emergence of AR/VR to give a more interactive and tailored shopping experience everywhere we go. Both of these technologies require high bandwidth and low latency to perform optimally (people report feeling nauseous at just 15 ms of delay for example (Arxiv). Amazon is already using AR to display furniture in homes so that people can view it in their space before ordering online (LifeHacker).
Fast, high volume streaming coupled with low latency may enable advancements in AI as well. Coupled with 5G’s ability to transmit multiple bitstreams of data simultaneously between the base station and edge devices, AI responsiveness and “intelligence” -- the ability to receive, analyze, and react to data -- will undoubtedly increase. Imagine walking into a store and instantly receiving a curated shopping experience with accurate, context-specific suggestions and recommendations. In time, more and more companies will develop software to align with the opportunities available with 5G, increasing interactivity and personalization faster than ever before.
The reliability and reduced latency of 5G will enable IoT and a plethora of other connected devices with embedded sensors to proliferate and be controlled remotely. 5G can support up to a million concurrent edge devices per square kilometer (ARSTechnica). Such device proliferation will enable businesses to collect data at enormous resolutions and volume and will require businesses to collect, clean, and analyze data at unprecedented rates. New industrial capacity will develop that will affect our everyday lives. Such advances could include improvements to smart home devices, self-driving cars, wearable technologies, and many more. It is important to realize, however, that these are all future benefits of emerging technology and it may take years, especially in the US, to fully realize the 5G’s potential, just like with the rollout of 4G before it.
Real World and Drawbacks
Luckily, we can take a look at other countries that have implemented this new technology on a larger scale and see how customers have reacted in those regions.
South Korea has had 5G networks since April of last year and has a substantial lead on the rest of the world in terms of deployment and active users. For many, the initial hype has worn off and people are commenting that the network may not be delivering as promised (KoreaTechToday). Although 5G came with the assurance of high speed and low latency, many found that this was only true within a very close proximity to the base stations. Any obstructions hampered the signal, drastically cutting the performance of the network. Furthermore, people paid a premium for both their phones and their plans in order to use the service, so the performance is even more vexing, especially when the connection is unreliable. The implementation of improvements to MIMO may help, but the only real solution seems to be installing as many base stations as possible to ensure the three points of connection. A multitude of people are also finding issues with the initial lineup of 5G enabled phones. Phones are constantly switching between the 4G and 5G antennas due to the lack of coverage, which causes moments of extremely high latency (RCRWireless). Furthermore, the phones are eating battery much faster and heat up during usage. These are significant issues that have yet to be solved and are causing many to stay away from the virgining technology. Furthermore, there is also no “killer app” for 5G that fully utilized the new network and entices customers to invest in it.
Even with these drawbacks, estimates put the South Korean user base at around 4.6 million users as of December 2019. Furthermore, even with the battery and heat issues, the network is still growing, with 21% of all mobile traffic coming from the 5G networks (LightReading). They are hopeful sections of the population who are fervently invested in the future even knowing all of the current downsides. With the advancements and deployment to be ramped in 2020, one can expect exponential growth in the new network with promising prospects.
When you hear the term 5G, it comes with the bittersweet reality that although promise exists for both businesses and consumers to benefit, the infrastructure and technology are just not there yet. When looking at countries such as South Korea, the potential of 5G is definitely apparent, but you have to realize that South Korea is just 1% the size of the US. The task of successfully and meaningfully implementing the network will be a monumental task for the telecommunication companies and could take years, especially considering that 4G hasn’t even been fully deployed as of yet. However, taking the time to understand and plan for the effects that 5G may have on your business and your consumers is essential. When it arrives, 5G will change the world and hopefully, you are prepared for it. Please contact us if you would like more information on 5G networks or how we can help your business get ready for it.