It seems like everyone these days is talking about 5G, and rightly so; 5G will deliver increased bandwidth and reduced latency to mobile and fixed communications that will not only improve the delivery of existing services, but open up entirely new use cases. In the public conversation, 5G is primarily defined by its potential capabilities but rarely by what 5G network technology actually is (not simply wireless), and how it will work. This is because 5G isn’t one thing; 5G will be a combination of solutions, not just one technology, and companies need to build their 5G strategy around that reality.
A Multi-Modal Environment
5G will be a multi-model environment composed of multiple high-bandwidth, low-latency technologies. The name 5G simply means “fifth generation.” The defining characteristic of this generation will be the diversity of connectivity types combined with the ability of devices to seamlessly optimize data pathways at any given moment. We call this new 5G structure the "multi-modal environment." Ultimately, the line between terrestrial fixed-line broadband powering Wi-Fi and mobile data will completely disappear as single hybrid network forms. This makes 5G fundamentally different from previous generations of mobile communications (2G, 3G, 4G, LTE), which served different functions than terrestrial broadband and were defined by a handful of communication network architectures.
The multi-modal environment will use millimeter wave band (24-86 GHz) wireless broadband connectivity in urban areas, where a density of data in a smaller area makes the high-bandwidth, short-range solution optimal. In rural or less dense suburban areas, satellite broadband will provide part of the solution. Moving between these signals will require cognitive radios with the ability to evaluate the available signals and move seamlessly from one connection to another, while advances in free space optics, high-speed electronics, and size, weight, and power reductions will build the foundation for the entire environment.
What Does This Mean for Businesses?
Complex as this sounds, it is not technical detail relevant only to engineers. For businesses looking to position themselves to leverage 5G capabilities in their devices or services in any industry, understanding the diversity of the 5G environment is essential for business leaders to build successful products that make the most of 5G and don’t fall short of expectations. Making your current LTE IoT device 5G-enabled does not simply mean swapping out a 4G module for a 5G module. It requires thought and strategy around your specific use case and your customer’s needs, with an understanding of what 5G will look like in a year, and what it will look like five or ten years in the future.
Companies that get 5G connected devices right by correctly identifying valuable features and capabilities made possible by the speed and low-latency of 5G, and incorporating the right types of intelligent radios capable of fulfilling the 5G promise will dominate every industry. Timing will be a huge challenge, even though for most use cases non-standalone (hybrid LTE and 5G) networks will be the best solution and allow LTE/5G-enabled devices to function while 5G coverage is still limited. Transitioning to new features that require 5G too early will frustrate users; too late and your product can become obsolete next to 5G-enabled competitors. The technical complexity and new business models 5G creates will spur new types of partnerships across sectors and technologies. At Benchmark, we are already working with leaders across telecommunications, industrial, defense and healthcare to solve the biggest technology challenges standing in the way of a 5G future, and investing in capabilities that will continue to move 5G forward.