Ultra-fast 5G mobile and data communication is coming – perhaps as early as this year to some parts of the country. What it will mean to business owners and consumers remains somewhat unclear until we answer the question: What do we want to do with it?
We know that our kids will start asking for phones with operating systems running 5G (the fifth generation of wireless technology). You can explain that unless they regularly download movies or play live-action games, they don’t need one right now. And phones may evolve quickly to adapt to the new protocol, making the first 5G versions quickly old-fashioned.
For business, the benefits may come in the near future. Or, at least, some businesses will benefit fairly soon as 5G enables improvements that can be imagined but so far not put in place because of limits of capacity, speed and accuracy in the current technology for wireless transmission of data.
If you operate an intranet in a large building, for instance, 5G will increase communications speed and capacity by twice or more. That’s because 5G relies not on large cell towers but small communication nodes similar to routers. These “pods” filled with antennae will be placed throughout a building to transmit high-frequency signals from floor to floor.
A benefit of 5G is that it will simultaneously download and transmit data at very high speeds — gigabytes instead of megabytes. As a result, you can download a movie, if you wish, in seconds rather than minutes. With that capability, 5G might offer a reasonable replacement for current cable or DSL.
Connecting everything to everything
Self-driving cars are a focus of 5G because the protocol will allow nearly instant communication between vehicles, traffic signals down the road and unseen traffic jams.
The Internet of Things will continue to grow exponentially as small sensors gain the ability to communicate even faster with each other and their computer bases. Aircraft, for example, will become more autonomous and safer as every system in the airframe is connected and reporting its status second-by-second.
Engineers working on virtual and augmented reality will take advantage of the speed and clarity to improve those experiences. And futurists believe 5G is the kind of technology that will spur invention of products and uses we have not yet dreamed up.
The catch is that it will take a while for 5G capabilities to be installed throughout the country. The cost is also unknown, both for providers and consumers of the service.
The promise of 5G is so great, however, that most commentators say it will eventually be the standard, though maybe not in the next couple of years.
First, those small pods have to be installed, not just in buildings but perhaps also along roadways, in the power grid, and within just about all infrastructure. If that happens, not only will your business productivity increase, but the transformation of daily life will continue apace.
Does it mean the end of 4G?
No, not really. The two systems will work together to convey information in the absence of a full 5G network. And there will continue to be uses for 4G where the super-fast speed of 5G is not needed.
So tell your engineers to start thinking big. And tell your kids you’re not buying them new phones for a while longer.