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What are the features and benefits of 5G technology?

As carriers expand their fifth-generation cellular networks, or 5G, much of the conversation surrounds the benefits to consumer mobile phone users. However, some snags in 5G rollouts and inconsistent performance have consumers questioning whether 5G can live up to the hype.

In fact, business customers may reap real rewards in the near term, starting with fixed wireless 5G — an affordable and more accessible point-to-point broadband replacement — and, ultimately, even mobile 5G.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the features and benefits of 5G for businesses.

1. Speed and bandwidth

The most-discussed 5G features are increased speed and bandwidth. With 5G speeds as high as 20 Gbps, the cellular technology brings a 10-times to 100-times improvement over 4G LTE, the previous cellular generation. Cellular is now a potential technology for use cases such as branch office automation, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) because WAN connections finally have enough bandwidth to support those applications.

2. Low latency

5G’s low latency, as low as 1 millisecond, is another key benefit for WAN usage. Customers are using MPLS or dedicated lines primarily for low latency in line-of-business applications. 5G’s low latency may bring additional flexibility that enables businesses to jettison some of their branch office MPLS infrastructure in favor of the less expensive and more flexible 5G connections to branch offices and other facilities. This is especially true in retail, shared infrastructure or remote environments.

3. Density

5G density enables up to 100 times more connected devices in the same physical area that 4G LTE operates, connecting up to 1 million devices in a square kilometer, while maintaining 99.999% availability. This density creates business advantages for mobile workforces and connected IoT devices. Telecom operators are banking on this density to help drive future mobile market growth. Mobile commerce is growing faster than brick-and-mortar retail and computer-based e-commerce. More customers than ever use mobile technologies to shop online, so greater density increases the overall addressable market.

benefits of 5G for businesses
5G can provide some significant benefits for businesses.

4. Reduction in power consumption

An estimated 90% reduction in power consumption for devices means minor power savings at the smartphone level. But, from an infrastructure perspective, especially for IoT devices, the power savings could be significant. Combining IoT devices with cellular 5G communication means an improved ratio of power consumption to traffic volume.

5. Security

Security is always a concern for mobile devices and IoT devices because they often live on the edge of the corporate network. While 5G security is constructed on the same principles as 4G, it has important security enhancements in the Authentication Server Function and Security Anchor Function. These security features divide the network the subscriber is connected to and the home network. The upshot is this separation makes it more difficult for a bad actor to spoof authentication messages in the core network.

That said, the massive volume of traffic carried over 5G networks also introduces new security challenges. Tracking that much data may overwhelm security and network management systems. Also, the entrance of multi-tenancy in 4G networks raises both security and regulatory compliance questions.

6. Coverage

By design, 5G wireless expands coverage through several different mechanisms, including midband spectrum use, network densification and massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) technology deployment.

Midband spectrum balances coverage and bandwidth, delivers improved services and offers a better cost model for higher data use. Network densification is driven by the lower propagation qualities of the high-frequency spectrum 5G uses, which require more cells in a particular space. Making the network denser requires more base stations and small cell and macrocell base stations.

Massive MIMO extends coverage and network capacity in 5G networks. The technology facilitates the deployment of an expansive number of antennas to send and receive signals, improving both capacity and coverage.

7. Network slicing

Network slicing applies the constructs of software-defined networking and network functions virtualization to split the network into virtual slices. It promises several important opportunities for both operators and their customers.

Currently, network slicing is not widely deployed. But, as 5G networks expand, network slicing is expected to become a popular way to monetize the technology and bring specialized services to customers.

Each network slice can adjust to meet specific requirements for applications or user groups to best support the network, security and performance needs. Telecom operators can use network slicing to deploy services and new functions quickly to adapt to shifting market dynamics.

Network slicing introduces new revenue opportunities by delivering higher value and customized services. These could include vertically specific services for industries such as manufacturing, healthcare or finance. Network slicing can also be used for horizontal applications, including AR and VR.

8. Future technology enablement

One of the most compelling benefits of 5G is its potential to support innovative new technology and business use cases. 5G is already used to provide high-speed internet services to businesses and consumers via fixed wireless access.

Healthcare is interested in using 5G in conjunction with edge computing for a host of different applications, including remote patient monitoring, remote surgery, telemedicine and IoT medical devices. With edge computing, 5G can be used for industrial automation, powering communications with robotics, drones and IoT sensors.

Several different industries, including oil and gas, manufacturing, utilities and construction, are using 5G for industrial automation applications. Automotive and logistics companies are using 5G with edge computing to build new autonomous vehicle applications.

Despite these impressive 5G features and benefits for businesses, the wireless technology has some drawbacks. But, overall, once 5G becomes pervasive, the real business benefits of 5G technology will become apparent.

John Fruehe is an independent enterprise technology analyst with more than 25 years of experience. He has specialized in enterprise networking and data center markets with a focus on product marketing.

Amy Larsen DeCarlo has covered the IT industry for more than 30 years, as a journalist, editor and analyst. As principal analyst at GlobalData, she covers managed security and cloud services.

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