5G networks are being penciled into enterprise IT plans, given their promise of low latency, data transfer speeds that can be as much as 100 times faster than their 4G network counterparts, and a projected ability to handle any type of IoT device that exists today or will exist in the future.
In the race to 5G, there are political pressures for countries to be “first” 5G, and for vendors to dominate market share. As these competitive pressures build, enterprise CIOs are being asked to think about what they need to do to be ready for 5G, what business cases can or will benefit from 5G, and if or when they should deploy 5G. None of the answers to these issues are straightforward, as 5G itself is in a state of disruptive deployment. The technology can’t be used everywhere. A majority of IT appliances and networks can't support it. And with 5G in early deployment stages and few IT professionals trained to install or support it, 5G is far from stable.
Nevertheless, 5G is coming. So, given the current instability of 5G technology deployments coupled with the need to be ready for 5G, what should CIOs and IT strategic planners be doing now?
Assess your business
5G is an opportunity to re-imagine your business and to think about what you could do in your company if you weren't constrained by limited bandwidth and slow data transfer speeds.
In healthcare, the elimination of communications constraints could mean a broader ability to deploy telemedicine and telesurgery to remote areas. In manufacturing, unleashing the potential of communications could bring an endless opportunity to manage all types of Internet of Things (IoT) appliances and robotics in factories around the world. In cities, unbridled communications could deliver limitless ways to manage traffic grids and fleets of autonomous vehicles. However, in other business cases, what you're already doing today with 4G, or even with 2G or 0G, might be enough.
The discussion about present, short-term future and long-term business directions, and the communications that are needed to support them, should occupy the CIO, other C-level executives, corporate technology experts and boards of directors. Business opportunities and use cases should be identified in these discussions as well as the IT expertise that will be needed to support 5G. If it is determined that 5G is a solution that will advance the business, especially if aggressive 5G deployments are anticipated, steps should be taken to project the 5G budget, as well as the readiness of IT personnel and resources for 5G support.
The corporate 5G infrastructure can be viewed from three different vantage points:
- The readiness of 5G vendors to provide 5G services to your company
- The readiness of your internal networks and other relevant IT infrastructure to handle 5G
- The readiness of your IT staff to support 5G
At the vendor level, the pressure is on service providers to build an infrastructure that is up to the task of supporting 5G. This includes new fiber optics networks and routers, and is a major reason why a Deloitte research study concluded that US organizations alone will spend between $130 billion and $150 billion in fiber optic cabling to meet 5G demands . Although many service providers are projecting that major implementation milestones will be reached in 2020, there are likely to be security and other technical “holes” that arise as 5G gets deployed because deployments are getting rushed to help vendors and countries “be there” first. This makes it critical for IT to choose its 5G suppliers wisely, and to form close, collaborative partnerships with the 5G vendors it selects.
A comprehensive audit of existing IT networks, hardware and software should also be performed to determine which corporate networks and/or network components will require upgrades or replacements for 5G. At the user level, smart phones and other portable devices will require upgrades or replacement. At the IT infrastructure level, there will be new pressures on edge computing from 5G, forcing upgrades to switches and routers.
Finally, the 5G readiness of your IT staff should be considered. The speed of 5G, the data payloads it will be able to transport, and the rapid expansion of IoT endpoints that 5G enables will all create opportunities for security breaches that could come at greater frequency and intensity than the IT security threats that staff and the company are accustomed to handling now. New network management challenges are also likely to arise with the deployment of both 5G and more IoT at the edges of enterprises.
Right-size your enterprise IT for 5G
High-speed 5G communications bring benefits, but they are also costly. Spend wisely and only for what you need, because not every IT system needs to be powered by 5G.
In planning and budgeting, CIOs should take note of those systems and applications that are doing just fine at lower bandwidths.
As an example, a hard goods manufacturer might want to track its containers that various third-party logistics companies are picking up and delivering to stores.
The goal might be to see which logistics providers and routes are most efficient and economical. To perform these analyses, IoT data is gathered on transport and is then aggregated for analytics. This exercise seldom has to be in real time, so a communications channel that is at very inexpensive 2G or lower levels might be very acceptable and serve as a means of realizing the ROI (return on investment) on communications quickly.
The bottom line
While there are always early adopters that see enormous strategic and operational gains that immediately can be realized with 5G, a majority of companies can afford to be “patiently aggressive” by not jumping to adopt 5G tomorrow. Instead, these companies can methodically develop clear strategies and operational plans to incorporate 5G as part of their IT in the next one to two years.
For companies that can afford to wait, there is the added benefit of 5G bugs (most notably security threats) being worked on and worked out so that 5G deployments are smoother and risks are less.
What companies can’t afford to do is to totally sit on the sidelines without a 5G game plan in place. 5G is coming to your company, whether through your own efforts, or through the pressures of hardware, software and cloud vendors that will use 5G to support their products.
For 5G planning and company re-imagining, the time is now.
For more on what to expect from tech in 2020, check out these resources.