Exploring the Race to 5G

Industry insiders expect 5G technology to enter the mainstream in just over two years. This expectation, coupled with jaw-dropping profitability estimates (a report from IHS Markit projects 5G to drive a whopping $12.3 billion in global economic output by 2035), has many businesses clamoring to learn how they can capitalize on ultra-connected, ultra-fast and ultra-reliable 5G networks.

But, as with any discussion about a much-anticipated technology advancement, the 5G conversation isn’t without its share of hyperbole. To help set clearer, more realistic expectations about the adoption of 5G technology, it’s important for businesses to understand where the “race to 5G” is at today and what key elements need to fall into place before our next generation of wireless technology crosses the finish line.

The 5G Standard is Still Pending

A recent article by TechRepublic suggests it will be months, even years, before the 5G standards are explicitly defined — the standards being a set of agreed-upon technical requirements conceived by standards organizations like the 3GPP, ITU, IEE as well as other governing bodies. Until standards are set in stone, 5G is still just a concept.

Businesses shouldn’t let this news take too much of the wind out of their 5G sails, however. The Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance has published which requirements a 5G network should fulfill, including[1]

  • 10 Mbps data rates for tens of thousands of users
  • 100 Mbps data rates for metropolitan areas
  • 1 Gbps data rates simultaneously to many workers on the same office floor
  • Hundreds of thousands of simultaneous connections for wireless sensors
  • Improved coverage and signaling efficiency
  • Reduced latency

So, despite 5G being in the early stages of standardization, there is still much for businesses and users to get excited about.

Should Operators Brace for a Spectrum Crunch?

TechRepublic’s article also highlights another potential hurdle in the race to 5G: there may not be enough wireless spectrum to go around for operators. This forces governments to answer important questions before 5G goes mainstream — namely what spectrum operators need, if those bands are currently being used and how much it will cost to sell those bands. Answering these questions could usher in a long, expensive process for operators and delayed roll-outs for businesses.

Fortunately, a solution to this potential “spectrum crunch” might be as simple as shifting focus from the lower-frequency bands used by carriers today toward higher-frequency bands, or millimeter waves. These millimeter waves offer the potential for greater bandwidth and more pinpointed signaling.

Infrastructure Expansion is Necessary

Improved coverage is one of the core requirements for 5G technology. However, to meet this requirement, providers will be urged to expand existing infrastructures — a project that is not cheap. Research from Deloitte Consulting LLP even estimates the U.S. needs as much as $150 billion in new fiber investment over the next seven years to support the country’s growing wireless coverage and density requirements. These numbers pose interesting questions to carriers, including are they willing to pay for infrastructure expansion 5G may require and, if so, how long will an expansion project take?

Ready or Not, 5G is Coming

It’s still way too early to say if the hype surrounding 5G is real. Nonetheless, 5G technology is sure to arrive in the mainstream in the next five years, and it will pay for companies to have as much information as possible about what it is and how to use it when that day comes. One thing is for sure: following the race to mainstream 5G deployment will be worth it.

Want more industry news? Check out our latest blog about Sprint preparing for 5G.