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Unpacking 5G Broadband: the Promise and the Reality

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Emerging technologies typically attract a lot of hype about how they will change everything. Sometimes the hype gets ahead of a technology’s real potential. In the case of 5G broadband, however, it’s arguable that the transformational benefits of this next-generation broadband wireless technology are actually under-lauded.

This may be due, in large part, to its slow rollout and some confusion from the 5G players jockeying for pole position with different standards and deployment strategies. It seems we’ve been promised for years that the mind-boggling download speeds offered by 5G were just around the corner — however, it’s currently available in only a handful of cities across the U.S.

Another reason 5G isn’t being given the same hype treatment as other technologies is this simple fact: We’ve seen this show before. Whereas technologies such as blockchain and quantum computing have no precedent, consumers and enterprises have experienced 3G and 4G. How much different can this fifth generation really be?

The truth is: It’s very different. 5G is the piece of the puzzle that will significantly improve the application of transformative technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine-to-machine communication, autonomous vehicles, smart cities and remote surgery, to name a handful.

That’s not hype, just fact. To meet their full potential, these all require the blazing speeds that older wireless technologies haven’t delivered. In the fourth industrial revolution, 5G is not just the key to the highway — it literally is the highway.

For consumers, this new generation will eliminate the buffering and delays that ruin the digital multimedia experience. Latency will shrink to as slow as one millisecond — that’s an improvement of anywhere from 60x to 120x compared to 4G and would make video communication almost seamless. Recent tests have found download speeds of around 1.4 gigabytes per second for the median 5G user, up from 71 megabytes per second on 4G, The Verge reports.

Opening Doors Across the Enterprise

Beyond making consumers happier — as important as that is — 5G is more than just a better mobile network. It will markedly improve the networks of every enterprise in every industry, bolstering employee productivity and allowing companies to take greater advantage of the new technologies that enable more complex data analytics to better serve customers, increase operational efficiency and reduce costs.

For example, health care providers currently struggle to transmit large files, such as MRIs and other images, on low-bandwidth or congested networks, forcing patients to wait longer, backing up office appointments and impacting other patients. This new generation will help eliminate those delays and the problems they cause. Additionally, 5G will accelerate the adoption of telemedicine through its support of high-quality, real-time video.

5G broadband will accelerate cloud adoption and the all-important transition to software-defined networks across multiple industries, as enterprises are able to rapidly transmit data to and from multiple clouds located anywhere at lightning-quick speeds.

Next-gen wireless broadband will also supply the infrastructure backbone for connected, smart cities. High-speed wireless will not only allow vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-server communications — it will connect IoT devices in street lights, transformers, water mains, sewers and more.

With 5G coming through the door, the next business cycle is really about 5G “plus”: 5G plus AI. 5G plus machine learning. 5G plus IoT. 5G plus all the systems that can leverage 5G the most. There are a multitude of symbiotic “plus” opportunities. This new landscape is still forming. Standards aren’t yet fully evolved, and organizations are making different bets on what type of 5G they’ll have and the kind of applications the technology will liberate. The public networks this technology enables will likely have a widespread impact by 2020. It may be another few years before 5G replaces 4G in the U.S., but this means enterprises must be planning right now to better serve customers and grow their businesses.

Yes, we will likely have plenty of first generation challenges, but make no mistake: By 2023, new 5G unicorns will emerge with a whole new set of threats to many industries. How well an organization has planned for and implemented 5G could be the difference between success and complete disruption. It has the potential to drive a transformational level of impact on companies — even entire industries.

Will you be ready as the fourth industrial revolution unfolds? At IBM, we’re working with leading communication service providers to help them re-envision their networks, and a host of other industries as the opportunity to reinvent themselves with 5G accelerates.

Lead Account Partner, IBM Global Business Services

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