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Is 5G technology ready? Mobile World Congress 2018

The Mobile World Congress 2018 conference will highlight 5G technology market in a big way. But is 5G technology ready for prime time?

As mobile devices proliferate and demand for data continues to transform businesses, network connectivity becomes ever more important. Speed and access are key factors in enabling a good mobile user experience and  real-time data driven applications.

5G technology, the successor to 4G LTE,  has been touted as a path to faster Internet connections and increased device access, even in remote locations—and without compromising security of devices and data. This next-generation connectivity, is touted as the solution to today’s connectivity’s limitations. At the same time, there is ample question about whether the 5G market is ready for mainstream deployments or whether 5G is still too immature for the enterprise.

The Mobile World Congress 2018 conference kicks off Feb. 26 in Barcelona, and one of the central themes on display will be 5G technology. In anticipation of MWC 2018, it’s important to explore 5G technology and its maturity.

What is 5G technology?

5G, or fifth-generation, wireless systems are rapidly approaching release and promise to deliver more of everything to satisfy the insatiable consumer and business demand for more speed, more devices, more security, and of course more new buzzwords for years to come. Interestingly, a new generation of wireless capabilities has rolled out approximately every decade:4G arrived in 2012, 3G in 2001, 2G in 1992, and the first generation in 1981.

Right on time, 5G is the next step forward for these technologies and will have a significant impacts on how individuals access the Internet, how companies manage their devices, and the types of services that service providers can provide. For service providers some of the key benefits of 5G technology include more extensive network virtualization, allowing carriers to improve the management and sharing of infrastructure; greater density, allowing a significant increase in the number of devices that can be on the network and a single, unified global standard for mobile network services. For consumers the benefits include a jump in bandwidth with devices able to receive 1 Gbps or faster Internet connections; lower-latency connections, allowing devices to respond faster, greater range for wireless signals and an overall better user experience.

The 5G applications and services

The combination of a increase in bandwidth, a reduction in latency, greater range, and greater device density on a network enables service providers to create new mobile services while expanding existing services. In this way, 5G also opens new opportunities with Internet of Things (IoT) devices and technologies.

Over the next decade there will be at least 20 billion to 30 billion IoT devices inundating networks, but some estimates have suggested as many as 1 trillion devices. Many of these devices will offer always-on connections and data processing. Consider these examples of IoT devices that are enhanced by 5G capabilities: autonomous and connected cars, connected wearables, indoor and outdoor mapping apps, and people-tracking devices. Because many of these devices operate outside the traditional corporate network or home network, 5G will enable new types of connectivity and data.

For the average consumer, 5G means more streaming video and video calls, faster access to data, and potentially better coverage. In addition, as the Internet speeds may be 1 Gbps or faster, in some cases, many consumers may elect to forgo traditional Wi-Fi systems at home and instead opt for a faster 5G connected device.

When will 5G technology be enterprise-ready?

5G technology is coming on the scene and generating legitimate buzz, but that doesn’t mean it is enterprise-ready yet. For example, a new 5G-enabled mobile phone may not be here for a couple of years.

What are the obstacles on enterprise-ready 5G technology? First, and most important, the 5G standard has yet to be finalized. While the specification is nearly complete, until it is finalized and agreed on, any 5G device could become obsolete should something change. Second, for the 5G market to  be mature and production-ready , it requires new radios and chips in mobile devices as well as software to handle the communications. Radio and transmissions systems will also need to be updated, and enough equipment will need to be deployed and configured to support the use of the technology.

While carriers like Verizon and AT&T are preparing to test 5G technologies on their networks, 5G market won’t be ready on devices right away. The radio chips required in mobile phones will likely not start arriving for general consumer usage until sometime in 2019 and the major transitions will likely not start until at least 2020. While consumers will need to wait until 2019 or 2020 to start using 5G, the carriers will work quickly to prepare infrastructure and systems to support the shift to 5G. Of course, this won’t stop the marketing teams at the carriers from starting campaigns around 5G technologies, and they will all be vying to get the “best” 5G network in place “first.”

What’s next for the 5G market?

If 5G is still a couple of years away from any real adoption, what comes next? The 4G specification has additional technologies and capabilities that are available now or will be available soon, depending on the carrier, that will expand the performance and speeds of current devices. The Long-Term Evolution (LTE) Advanced specification builds on the existing 4G and LTE technologies while offering faster transmission speeds and performance. In addition, several of the 5G technologies are included in LTE Advanced. Expect devices released in 2018 and 2019 to begin supporting LTE Advanced. Carriers may not change existing LTE coverage maps or brand campaigns as they fully adopt LTE Advanced, but consumers will still benefit from faster network speeds with this release.

5G technology on the horizon

The 5G standard and technologies offer a lot of promise and will help pave the way for the next major wave of innovations across most other industries like the auto industry, restaurant industry and other retail industries as well as business-to-business organizations and many others. Because the average consumer will likely experience 5G around 2020, businesses should begin planning now and considering the offerings they can create. In the meantime, LTE Advanced will continue to improve the existing wireless technologies.

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Sean Bryson

Sean Bryson is a high-tech executive and consultant focused on innovative technologies.