You’ve heard the excitement, seen the advertisements—5G cellular network technology is coming to your organization, and it’s coming soon. But how will 5G arrive, and do you need to take action to bring these new services to your company?

Here are five ways that the 5G signal might reach your organization’s phones, laptops, radios, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and more.

Macro cell

Macro cell will be the first and widest reaching experience with 5G. This approach is the cellular coverage we’re all familiar with—a signal from a cell tower near your location. Since traditional service is available everywhere and is provided by traditional wireless companies, Macro cell is the easiest and fastest way to get the first 5G devices online in your organization.

How could it be used?

You’ll see macro cell used by delivery companies; for example, trucks traveling local streets will have 5G navigation and tracking systems. Packages will become IoT-enabled to self-report delivery success. Handheld scanners will provide route changes, enable delivery signatures and order payment while drivers are on their routes.

What’s the benefit?

For small corporate sites, 5G macro cell coverage may provide all the connectivity that location needs, even outdoors. Across countries and continents, the macro cell can track a refrigerated container as it travels down a superhighway or reroute a delivery driver for an urgent pickup.

Small cell or micro cell

Sometimes called network extenders, small cells or micro cells are small private radios used by organizations in private buildings and areas such as tunnels between buildings or classrooms. By taking the technology from a traditional wireless company’s cell tower and shrinking it to the size of a wireless access point, you can use the internet to connect your small cells to the wireless carrier’s core.

How could it be used?

As retail companies move away from traditional cash registers to personalized service with customer concierges, they will use micro cell technology. Micro cells mounted on the ceiling of the store will allow concierges to use 5G connected handhelds for customer sales interactions; in the stockroom, associates will use 5G IoT for inventory management.

What’s the benefit?

Small cells are used in conjunction with traditional macro technology to provide reliable and strong coverage, increase capacity and improve density and service by extending the carrier’s wireless network into a specific location. They can end the dropped calls on your loading dock or improve the bandwidth in your interior conference room.

Distributed antenna system

A distributed antenna system provides targeted, highly engineered coverage to many devices in and near a large building or campus. Wireless carriers install cellular radios in a central room, and from there the signal is distributed to many antennas across the site.

How could it be used?

At a shopping mall, stadium, hospital, hotel or airport, tens of thousands of mobile devices need on-site connectivity. A single tower simply isn’t enough capacity for the device density. Distributed antenna systems will allow these public venues to deliver high quality connectivity to their guests.

What’s the benefit?

Any time, any place, we expect great wireless coverage and performance. Distributed antenna systems enable thousands of people, phones, tablets and devices to connect reliably in buildings around the world.

Local 5G

With local 5G, your organization can design, deploy and implement a carrier’s 5G network using a customized coverage model. The carrier uses their licensed frequencies, ensures regulatory compliance, manages device registration and provides activation of service. Because service is delivered by a wireless carrier, your devices connect seamlessly to the macro cell public network once they leave your local 5G coverage zone.

How could it be used?

Let’s look at the delivery company again. While trucks are out making deliveries, they consume macro cell services. Overnight they return to the distribution center. Additionally, thousands of packages are processed at the center through sorting systems to prepare for the morning rush. To prevent a capacity overload of the macro cell, the company works with its carrier to design and deploy targeted coverage for the distribution center. The many devices in the distribution center can use the purpose-built local 5G to quickly access mobile edge computing resources on the company’s network. This bespoke connectivity allows 5G endpoints to communicate to applications with new levels of efficiency and speed. As a result, teams can harness new insights such as up-to-the-minute temperature sensors of frozen foods or packages automatically grouping themselves by the most efficient delivery routes.

What is the benefit?

Local 5G is designed to handle incredible increases in network bandwidth demands and device density at centralized facilities. This approach also enables unique wireless services such as guaranteed access to the network for your devices and edge computing onsite at your facility and local IP space.

Private 5G

With private 5G, your organization acts as its own cellular carrier, providing not only the radios and antennas, but also the core servers, SIM cards and radio frequency licensing. You are responsible for managing, operating, updating and maintaining a private 5G network. This approach provides coverage to thousands of devices without individual device subscription fees or opportunity for overage of use. Private 5G also enables new ultra-low-latency services that connect to local edge computing over wireless, and delivers the kind of traffic flows previously available only with wired connectivity.

How could it be used­?

Retailers with central and regional distribution centers have hundreds of thousands of units of inventory just in one warehouse. Private 5G lets a retailer provide the coverage necessary to track and update inventory as it moves through the facility. Smart sensors on packaging report updates, and handheld scanners record events with boxes. To provide differentiated services over the same radio network, the retailer can use “network slicing” on private 5G. For example, one 5G slice can deliver real-time, low-latency communication to self-guided inventory robots, while another 5G slice, transmitted from the same equipment, delivers streaming video to employees.

Another example is the use of automated, robotic production lines in manufacturing facilities. Each robot is connected to physical cabling to meet the latency requirements needed for fast and precise movements. The cabling creates failure points and limits the robot’s ability to perform. Private 5G lets a manufacturing company use reliable low-latency communications to wirelessly send robotic control signals from the robot to on-site mobile edge computing systems. Now free from physical network cabling, the next generation of robots will become mobile—moving from one production line or product to another, increasing the use of each robot and reducing manufacturing costs.

What’s the benefit?

A private 5G network gives you the coverage you need, where you need it, with guaranteed quality of service and the lowest possible latency. You have total control over the radio coverage, bandwidth, calling and data flow for your organization. Since all devices operate in your private IP address space according to your profiles, edge computing is easily enabled. You can also design your own data flows and meet your unique information security standards.

With you as the cellular carrier, monthly per-device cellular service fees are eliminated, making it cost-effective to connect thousands of devices. You can also enable wireless services anywhere you need them, including areas not serviced by cellular carriers such as remote mining sites or offshore oil platforms.

Choose the right 5G solution for your business

Whether your organization uses micro cell, macro cell, a distributed antenna system, local 5G, private 5G or a combination of these technologies depends on your unique needs. Each technology has a different set of use cases. Identifying the best solution for your business starts with knowing your use cases.

IBM’s design-thinking approach helps you identify optimal uses for wireless in your environment and build the right journey for your organization. By designing and prototyping solutions through the IBM Garage methodology, we quickly help you arrive at the right option for your business.

Prepare for the next wave of cloud with 5G-enabled edge and software-defined networking

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