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5G technology is a game-changer, but full benefits will take years to achieve

There has been a great deal of buzz lately around 5G technology. But many organizations may be confused about what the technology means for them, and where we really are with 5G deployment.

For insights into those and other related issues, Information Management spoke with Mark McCaffrey, U.S. technology, media and telecommunications leader at PwC. Here are his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities that 5G technology will bring to organizations.

Information Management: We are starting to hear a lot about 5G coverage. Where exactly are we with 5G nationally?

Mark McCaffrey: We are finally beginning to see early 5G activation and deployment after several years of anticipation. However, what we are seeing today is still early-stage 5G wireless technology, available only in limited forms in select cities. We are still ironing out some of the logistical kinks before the technology can be more widely implemented.

IM: What is the most important thing that organizations should know about the technology?

McCaffrey: The technology is still nascent, so we can expect glitches and learning moments as it is implemented and use cases increase. We must keep our expectations in check for now. 5G will drastically change connectivity across the board, but we can’t get there overnight. What we are seeing now can be best classified as the foundational phase of 5G technology.

However, organizations can — and should — have the technology on their radar. And they can begin to formulate a plan for its inevitable use:

  • How can 5G help your organization?
  • How can your organization more effectively boost and rely on connectivity?
  • What ambitious goals are you trying to achieve.
  • What problems are you trying to solve?

Asking these questions now will help you get ahead of the curve when 5G becomes fully operational.

IM: When do you expect to see full 5G coverage (or near-so) become a reality?

McCaffrey: In the months ahead, the focus around 5G will take on more urgency as organizations determine how to effectively implement and monetize the technology. However, we must first address the numerous challenges to widespread 5G implementation: regulatory requirements, for example, especially with local, national or international regulatory bodies each imposing their own timeline.

5G 30.jpg
An attendee handles a Mi Mix 3 5G smartphone on display during a Xiaomi Corp. launch event ahead of the MWC Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. At the wireless industry’s biggest conference, over 100,000 people are set to see the latest innovations in smartphones, artificial intelligence devices and autonomous drones exhibited by more than 2,400 companies. Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

The biggest hurdle, however, is cost. While developing the technology was not inexpensive, activating it across cities, states, countries and within organizations will catapult costs to another level. 5G implementation will occur over an extended period of time, requiring several billion dollars in funding. This is likely why we will see 5G only in select locations at first, particularly larger cities with key infrastructure already in place. Our analysis on expediting 5G implementation can be found here.

IM: What will be the business benefits to organizations when that happens?

McCaffrey: Connectivity is the lifeblood of business today; 5G will power stronger, faster connectivity to undergird use cases from IoT to smart infrastructure to remote monitoring.

For smaller organizations, the next generation of wireless can offer improved broadband capabilities. 5G is also expected to connect previously unconnected remote areas. For larger businesses, mobility will take center stage as 5G promises enhanced speeds, reduced latency, and reimagined services.

For example, thanks to the throughput of 5G, AR/VR-headset-powered learning in schools, universities and other organizations can become far more lifelike, emotionally connecting students with subject matter like never before. Meanwhile, the potential for remote surgery could bring medical care to patients in remote locations seeking specialized medical procedures. Those are just two examples that illustrate the potential of 5G to revolutionize life as we know it.

Think back to video streaming in the days before 4G. Hard to remember now but the seamless experience we’re all used to today is available only because of 4G technology.

IM: Will some organizations be better able to take advantage of the 5G technology than others, and if so, why and which types?

McCaffrey: The potential of 5G lies with its universality: It can help businesses of all sizes across all industries rethink how they stay connected. 5G has the power to transform how organizations approach work, tackle key challenges or even identify previously unidentified problems. As with all innovation, business leaders are well advised to take a strategic approach. For example, how can 5G solve the specific challenges your organization faces?

With widespread adoption, 5G will mature into a diversified technology with a wide range of use cases, especially after developers and engineers build products with the technology in mind. But the companies that take the time to plan for 5G now will have the advantage over their peers.

IM: How is 5G technology likely to directly impact a typical Information Management reader – a senior level software developer, engineer or data scientist

McCaffrey: The biggest change — an opportunity, really — that developers, engineers and data scientists will experience hinges on the applications 5G will enable. 5G will deliver faster speeds and lower latency, resulting in connectivity unlike anything we’ve seen. These new capabilities will serve as a new set of tools for developers looking to create that next big solution or upgrade.

No matter the industry or the organization, 5G use cases will require this group to reevaluate how and where they use connected tools and resources in their business. Organizations will need to work closely, both internally and with partners, to build and execute on the right approach for their teams.

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