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5 things you need to know about 5G

John Brandon | March 22, 2016
While it may still be years away, understanding how 5G will impact the enterprise now will help you plan accordingly.

Most of us in the tech sector are drawn to the “speed and feeds” – the technical specs that reveal what is better than the last dot release. We want faster processors, more solid state memory capacity and networks with lower latency. Yet, there are often Herculean jumps forward in technology that do more than just add a bit more capacity or speed. 

That’s the case with 5G wireless. Both AT&T and Verizon have announced limited trials for the faster cellular data connection, which will likely debut by 2020. It’s important for IT leaders to know about, especially for planning and strategy purposes, but it’s also easy to miss the fact that 5G wireless (according to the technical experts) is more than a speed boost. 

To find out how 5G will impact the enterprise, including how employees will tap into the network and work remotely, asked leading experts for their take. 

1. It’s much more than a speed boost 

You may have already seen that 5G will be 10-100x faster than 4G. That could mean real-world speeds of about 4Gbps or more. (There’s a reason it’s called “fiber without the fiber.”) 

Most of the speed increases are due to how the carriers will be adding more wireless channels, using millimeter wave technology (which means the signal has to travel shorter distances), installing small cells that dramatically increase the coverage map, and pumping up the wired backhaul locations, according to Jim Greer, an AT&T spokesman. 

Greer made the point that IT leaders should view 5G as more than a speed increase. In fact, it is mostly related to making sure the networks can handle a massive increase in the number of devices. The Internet of Things will usher in a new age of connected devices, everything from the security system at the office to the radio in your car already connect. By 2020, the number of added devices will take a dramatic jump as objects that were never on the network – say, clothing, sporting goods equipment, bridges, and even your body – come online. 

“As the IoT revolution gets underway, 5G networks will be able to handle the hundreds of millions of devices and sensors that will join the network,” says Roger Entner, the founder of Recon Analytics and an  expert on 5G wireless networks. 

2. There will be brand new architectures 

The speed boosts, low latency, and backwards compatibility with existing networks will provide a good framework for new architectures we have not seen previously, says Akshay Sharma, a research director for carrier infrastructure at Gartner

“5G wireless will add new architectures like Cloud RAN (radio access network) where localized nano-data centers will occur supporting server-based networking functions like Industrial IoT gateways, video caching and transcoding at the edge for UltraHD video, and newer mesh-like topologies supported with more distributed HetNets (heterogeneous networks),” he says. 


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