It’s summer, it’s hot outside, and you’re probably thinking about your plans for the weekend — not the disruptive potential of 5G. But it’s a good time to start pondering its possibilities, so you can make a case for network upgrades when the time comes.
KPMG estimates 5G will unlock US$4.3 trillion in value across the globe. And these “won’t just be incremental changes,” according to its recently released report. Next-gen networks will “unleash” and “supercharge” technologies like artificial intelligence, smart machines and sensors in the IoT.
Sound like a bit of hyperbole? It’s not.
KPMG describes the move from 4G to 5G like “upgrading from a water fountain to a fire hose.” To put that in perspective, a 5G network can carry 10,000 times the traffic of a 4G network at 20 times the speed. Oh — and that’s with one millisecond latency. So when KPMG uses words like “unleash” and “supercharge,” it isn’t using those words lightly.
The 5G disconnect
But there appears to be a disconnect between 5G’s potential and people’s expectations. An Accenture survey released earlier this year found that 1,800 executives from medium to large businesses in 10 countries believe there are “very few” things 5G will allow them to do that they can’t already do with 4G networks. And fewer than two in five expect a “revolutionary” shift in speed and capacity.
This attitude could be chalked up to “limitations of conventional business thinking,” according to Accenture’s Omar Abbosh and author Larry Downes in an article for the Harvard Business Review.
They suggest “many business leaders neither understand the technology nor its disruptive potential. 5G, when fully implemented, is poised to be a very big deal, a far bigger transformation in mobile technology than any previous generational shift.”
It’s something Accenture dubs “trapped value,” and it can lead to delayed investment and missed opportunities.
Unlocking trapped value
It’s hard to get excited about smart meters. But consider “sensors that monitor, and devices that assist, everything from mobility to medication,” say the authors in the HBR article. Robot assistants, 3D-printed prosthetics and tele-health services — powered by 5G — could help seniors age in their own home. That is life-changing.
The next generation of cellular network technology will give us speed — and lots of it — but it’s more than that. We’ll have a whole lot more capacity. Sure, not everyone needs all that capacity, but our devices will. The aforementioned KPMG report predicts there will be 25 billion connected devices by 2025.
“Your dog’s going to have a roaming communications capability,” Jack E. Gold, founder and principal analyst at J Gold Associates, told NetworkWorld in a recent ‘Tech Talk.’ He says 5G is capable of changing the traditional wired or wireless network from one that’s fixed to one that can be sliced and diced according to your needs.
Making 5G a reality
The difficulty is in the transition. There’s still a lot of work to be done behind the scenes to make 5G a reality for the masses. There’s also been plenty of media attention about the proposed Huawei ban and concern over national security issues.
For networks pros, however, there’s a bigger issue (and one far less ominous): Before we can benefit from 5G, we need to update and create networks to accommodate these new capabilities.
In another article for NetworkWorld, Gold says most networks have only a single dedicated function. “This doesn’t work well when you want to be able to change and provision new services, network connections, and software solutions,” he says.
5G makes the move to Network Functional Virtualization (NFV) “imperative,” says Gold, since it’s required for services such as network slicing, narrow-band IoT and intelligence at the edge (to name a few).
His firm also predicts that all NFV systems will need an AI engine within the next three years to — you guessed it — power AI services.
If you’re having a tough time getting executive buy-in on your plans for 5G, KPMG has come up with a handy list of questions, such as: “Do you know how 5G will impact your competitive landscape?”
If you present your findings to higher-ups (when the long, lazy days of summer come to an end), they might even start using words like “revolutionary.”