You’ve probably heard that 5G is right around the corner and may be wondering what this means to your small business. This article will give you a sense of what to expect, when to expect it, and how it will impact your small business.
What is 5G?
As the name implies 5G is the fifth generation of mobile communications. It promises to be faster, more reliable, and offer greater capacity. Sounds a lot like 4G right? The difference is that this time it’s going to impact more than just your mobile phone, but before going there let’s talk speed.
How much faster is 5G going to be? Estimates are 10 to 100 times faster than your mobile connection is today. A file that takes ten minutes to load will only take 10 seconds if this speed is realized. That’s a big deal.
Along with that speed you’re also getting lower latency and greater capacity. Latency is the delay you experience when you first connect. That is going to get reduced significantly. Capacity is important because many more types of devices are going to try to ride this new mobile highway. Also, streaming everything from Netflix to Live NFL games is going to easy and everyone will be doing it.
Last, but not least, the mobile carriers are saying 5G will be “ultra-reliable.” This translates to fewer dropped calls and connections.
When will we see 5G?
The good news is 5G is right around the corner. T-Mobile says it’s launching in 30 cities next year, while Sprint will launch in nine cities. AT&T is launching in a dozen markets, and Verizon aims to launch next year too, but it’s unclear how wide the coverage will be.
The bad news is there are no 5G phones to be found. That’s because beyond prototypes they don’t exist. Qualcomm, one of the primary makers of mobile chips, is saying we should start seeing 5G phones in early 2019. This is a year earlier than their previous expectation.
Expect those phones to be very buggy, like the initial 4G phones. If you recall, 4G phones really struggled moving between 4G and 3G initially. Imagine going 100 mph and then almost instantaneously dropping speed to 10 mph. This is the challenge to be overcome, and it won’t happen overnight.
How will 5G work?
The initial plan was to use a super high-frequency spectrum, which had shorter range but higher capacity, to deliver enormous bandwidth. The carriers quickly learned that this had significant issues mostly related to interference. Anything that crossed its path (birds, leaves, walls, etc.) caused a problem.
This caused the industry to pursue lower-frequencies which travel through walls and other obstructions better. The problem with lower frequencies is they cover less distance. To support 5G the plan is to place a bunch of “small cell” antennas a couple of hundred feet apart forming high-density cells. Carriers intend to blanket neighborhoods and business parks with these things.
Small cell antennas are about the size of a backpack and are typically installed on existing utility poles. They use less power than cell towers and have a coverage area of about a thousand feet. Over five times the number of antennas will be required than the existing mobile network to create the same coverage area. This isn’t going to happen overnight.
Back to what, as in what does this mean for small business?
If your business is in one of the roll-out cities and any of the following words/acronyms apply to your business you’re in luck: Autonomous Vehicles, Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, etc.
If it sounds like Silicon Valley is invading you’re right! Much of the bandwidth is expected to be used to support the next generation of technology. These applications need to gather and process enormous amounts of data instantaneously.
5G has less to do with supporting your typical mobile usage, and more to do with ushering in the next generation of technology. If your business is leveraging any of these technologies, and you’re in a roll-out city, then you’re going to be an early beneficiary.
If you’re like most small businesses where none of this applies, it likely will have minimal impact. That’s not to say a fully realized network (2020 and beyond) won’t impact you, but short term it will be limited. This is probably why we aren’t seeing a wave of new handsets showing up.
Once the network matures small business will see big benefits in productivity both through faster applications and better connectivity with remote workers. Landmark research sponsored by Qualcomm and conducted by PSB Research found that one of the key expectations for 5G is that small businesses will become more globally competitive.
The long and short of this is that you should temper your expectations. It’s likely to be business as usual in the mobile world at least for another year or two.