The beginning of 5G in the workplace: The transformational impact and the challenges

The advent of 5G’s higher speeds and lower latency has businesses on the edge of their seat, with a forecasted one billion users expected to have access to 5G by 2023. However, to reap the full interconnected benefits of 5G, devices will need to be upgraded or replaced, and many teams are not fully equipped for the evolution.

The nature of the signal is challenging, but once 5G is commonplace and reliable, many of the connectivity challenges users face now will dissipate. Before we get there, MNOs (mobile network operators) will need to build an underlying connectivity infrastructure that can deliver massive machine connectivity, ultra-low latency and hyper-flexible bandwidth.

Preparing for these changes will require a whole new way of thinking and working for many operators worldwide. It also requires new designs at the electrical engineering level for 5G enabled devices and the infrastructure. We’ll see processors give way to faster DSPs (digital signal processors), as an example.

Suzanne Deffree — Brand Director, Intelligent Systems and Design at UBM — discusses the biggest challenges businesses will face as 5G enters the workplace, the connectivity challenges and the potential benefits, among other topics.

What are the biggest challenges businesses face as 5G begins entering the workplace?

As any new technology enters the market, business infrastructures require updating and veteran devices need to be replaced with new devices that are enabled for that technology. While 5G offers the promise of higher speeds and lower latency, today’s businesses likely have not equipped their teams with 5G capable smart phones. Neither are the laptops, nor the machines on a factory floor for manufacturing businesses, nor the robotics used in surgery or your MRI scanner. To reap the full interconnected benefits of 5G, devices will need to be upgraded or replaced, which means added training and cost for businesses.

Right now, it’s a roll of the dice as to where 5G will be available first in the U.S. Once it does arrive, all the capabilities may not be available immediately. As fast as 5G is, it is difficult to cover a broad area with 5G, because of its signal type. So, businesses that upgrade anticipating an immediate improvement may not enjoy the full benefits of 5G straightaway.

While security is always top of mind for businesses, 5G’s speed will not only enable faster data transfers, but also expedite potential breach incidents, as well.

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What are the potential workplace benefits provided by 5G?

Today, IoT (Internet of Things) is a fun buzzword, but all it offers now is a device embedded with communications. The device may “talk” to one or two other devices, and send your phone some data, but once we get to the speed, low latency, and low power promises of 5G, IoT will take off, as will M2M (machine to machine). Those IoT and M2M devices will be able to immediately interact with each other, bringing true connectivity and data sharing at speeds fast enough to allow thoughtful and purposeful action to be taken.

All of these technologies that we’re buzzing about now—autonomous cars that need to constantly communicate with their surroundings, co-bots working with humans on factory floors, life-saving surgical robots, AR and VR for realities that don’t require in-person attendance—become real when 5G increases speed and lowers power consumption as compared to 4G, moving large amounts of data with minimal delay.

We’ll see a continued shift to mobile access for enterprises, as well as an increase in open-source designs and technologies. Open source brings speed of innovation and collaboration. The volume of technology and innovation that is coming will not come from one company or engineer alone.

Suzanne Deffree believes businesses will need to adjust in order to accommodate 5G.
Suzanne Deffree believes businesses will need to adjust in order to accommodate 5G.

Will 5G present any new connectivity challenges?

The nature of the signal is challenging, but once 5G is commonplace and reliable, many of the connectivity challenges users face now will dissipate. Before we get there, MNOs (mobile network operators) need to build an underlying connectivity infrastructure that can deliver massive machine connectivity, ultra-low latency, and hyper-flexible bandwidth. Preparing for these changes will require a whole new way of thinking and working for many operators worldwide. It also requires new designs at the electrical engineering level for 5G enabled devices and the infrastructure. We’ll see processors give way to faster DSPs (digital signal processors), as an example.

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Will 5G present any new BYOD challenges?

Many businesses do not have DAS (distributed antenna systems) or small cells, which would increase network density and capacity inside their buildings. We went from office environments where everyone has a PC with wired Internet to one that incorporates BYOD (bring-your-own-device) where each employee has a laptop, smartphone, tablet, smartwatch, fitness wearable, and more all accessing the same network. A side effect of BYOD has been that individual users in organisations have seen decreased quality of connectivity, based in part on the lack of DAS or small cell deployment, but when 5G is fully implemented with proper small cells, the pressure on that network will be lessened.

Will 5G impact security in any meaningful way?

5G’s speed won’t only allow your business to transfer data more quickly, but incidents of breach will be expedited, as well. As we add to infrastructure, adding more small cells, there will also be more vulnerable hardware.

We’ll also see an increase in open-source designs and technologies in 5G. Open source brings speed of innovation and collaboration, but it can also be a double-edge sword for security. It’s open and considered by some to be more vulnerable in that openness. But the counter argument is that the openness and ability to have more eyes and minds on a design allows for better security design.

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Is there anything else you would like to add?

It’s important to note that 5G standards are being delivered before the tech is here. There will be an adjustment period for businesses and the engineers behind these devices. It’s important to keep up with both the standards and the engineering, educating yourself and connecting with your peers, including at live events like January’s DesignCon, which focuses in part on high-speed communications and 5G.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.

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