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How to get the most from 5G mobile networking

Forrester analysts present a guide to help technology organisations optimise the use of 5G in the business

Network operators and device and equipment manufacturers are making near-daily announcements about new deployment initiatives or highlighting potential 5G benefits for vertical industries, internet of things (IoT) use cases, and edge computing solutions for enterprises and consumers.

5G networks power use cases requiring high bandwidth, ultra-low latency and differentiated service characteristics. Technology leaders need to educate themselves on the benefits, challenges and value proposition of 5G, as well as assess relevant opportunities to use 5G networks in the light of other network connectivity options.

Connectivity is creeping ever deeper into our lives and business operations, while business success increasingly depends on network-enabled product and service differentiation. 5G helps businesses address evolving customer requirements for 5G connections to power IoT use cases, applications and edge computing applications requiring near-real-time insights and ultra-low latency. These allow businesses to open new customer engagements, broaden portfolio opportunities and connect IoT.

As a consequence, CIOs and business stakeholders are achieving new business value and data empowerment when partnering 5G cellular and private networks with edge computing and IoT services.

Technology and business leaders are increasingly recognising that 5G technology will enhance employee and customer engagement through superfast mobile broadband, support IoT applications with machine-type communications, and open new business opportunities with ultra-reliable and low-latency communications.

Most businesses have started their digital transformation, and 5G can play an important part in this evolution. We will feel its full impact only as 5G network infrastructure and device availability mature in years to come.

But because it is a general-purpose technology, 5G will affect entire economies. This means that as CIO and CTOs interweave business strategy and 5G initiatives, networking decision stakeholders should provide technology leaders with boundary conditions for those decisions. They need to base their 5G deployment decisions on factors such as deployment timelines, network technology availability and security requirements.

Varying 5G network deployment timelines

Telecoms service providers cannot upgrade existing cellular infrastructure to meet 3GPP (third-generation partnership programme)-defined 5G standards. They are investing billions of dollars to deploy new 5G infrastructure on a block-by-block, city-by-city basis. Public 5G network deployment will occur gradually because the defining standards, spectrum auction and necessary network equipment and device deployment are ongoing initiatives that depend on the timeline and investment roadmap for each service provider.

Network stakeholders must assess their firm’s requirements for various connectivity options, including low-power wireless personal-area networking (LoWPAN) technologies, cellular solutions and emerging 5G networks.

Previous generations of 3G and 4G cellular networks basically used the same spectrum to improve bandwidth and inject more advanced methods of data transfers. Those cellular evolutions, while cutting-edge at the time, required some hardware updates to cell towers – but that was nothing compared with 5G requirements. Incorporating new spectrums, leveraging multiple-in-and-multiple-out (MIMO) technologies, and adopting a host of new protocols, 5G networks require new infrastructure, access points, and devices in both new locations and existing towers. 

Low-frequency 5G spectrum offers wider coverage, travels further and provides in-building coverage but supports lower data rates. By comparison, high-frequency 5G spectrum (millimetre wave, for example) covers shorter distances and offers high data rates, but it is prone to distortion from buildings, rain, walls, and other elements that cause wave interference.

Security implications of 5G and edge convergence

Transformative 5G opportunities will emerge at the intersection of 5G connectivity and edge computing. Operational technology processes in “concrete floor” environments can leverage enhanced bandwidth and access IoT-enabled assets, machinery and systems with direct connectivity to third parties and the internet.

Chief information security officers must focus on securing the expanded attack surface from adding hundreds or thousands of these devices to networks, with limited or no visibility and access control. This exacerbates many of the issues that security leaders are already trying to solve. Expanded 5G network connectivity and enhanced bandwidth features mean that the breadth of connected devices will multiply, making security challenges even harder to address.

You don’t necessarily need 5G to deploy many IoT use cases, as 4G/LTE networks are available in many regions today. However, enterprise stakeholders in key vertical markets are leveraging private 5G networks or deploying 5G-powered use cases to address critical business functions that benefit from the high-bandwidth, low-latency features, and powerful attributes of this network.

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For instance, companies in some verticals (manufacturing, healthcare and financial services, for example) are deploying private 5G networks to address potential data communication disturbances or security threat concerns around the use of public 5G networks. Private 5G networks give these enterprises control over data security features, network resource utilisation and application prioritisation.

Each country has its own timeline for allocating private or non-public spectrum and making it available to enterprises. Use cases that will benefit from edge computing on private 5G in 2021 include factory-floor automation as well as augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) and high-definition video applications for remote inspection and surveillance, quality assurance, remote monitoring, predictive maintenance and employee safety systems.

5G networks expand edge and automation

5G networks help to distribute data and services and optimise outcomes in edge computing environments. In edge scenarios, 5G’s low-latency and high-bandwidth capabilities enable data processes to occur close to the connected device. Processing power at the edge ensures that the captured data and insights are accessible at the critical time they are needed for that specific application, service or use case.

5G also extends automation possibilities by enabling efficient deployment of various types of automation scenarios, including factory robotics that execute complex and repetitive tasks in manufacturing environments, or managing automated vehicles and robots in cargo and warehouse environments.

5G-powered IoT use cases address specific vertical markets. Firms in many sectors, such as manufacturing, retail and financial services, are deploying or planning to deploy 5G-enabled applications and use cases. Network stakeholders must identify and evaluate opportunities to benefit from 5G-enabled use cases relevant to their organisation’s business priorities, operational initiatives and industry requirements.

For example, 5G can provide high-bandwidth connectivity in manufacturing environments, in sites where wires cannot be run, and in high- temperature sites spanning large geographic areas. Banks are using 5G to enable fully functional pop-up branches or to power real-time video chat consultations with financial service experts to discuss wealth management, retirement planning and college funding.

While 3G and 4G services gave birth to the mobile mindset, 5G will change the way businesses engage their customers and operate. A cornucopia of new 5G technology features will challenge professionals on both the technology and business sides. Now, more than ever, it is important for these professionals and business leaders to work together to identify new services and use cases to accelerate new business opportunities.

This article is based on Forrester’s Research overview: 5G technology, products and services by Andre Kindness, Michele Pelino with Glenn O’Donnell, Dan Bieler, Renee Taylor, Diane Lynch

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