South Korea ended 2018 on a big bang – it became the first country in Asia Pacific to launch commercial 5G services for enterprises. In fact, not one but three of the major telecom operators announced the new service earlier than expected.
The launch gave businesses in Korea a head-start for 2019. The 5G race is intensifying, and businesses are already gearing up to take advantage of the next-generation network to improve operations and customer experience as well as explore new business models.
What exactly is 5G?
5G encompasses 4G Evo, a 5G New Radio (NR) and a new 5G Core (5GCN), supported by a transport and core architectural evolution to deliver great network benefits. For the first time, two generations of technologies are going to be closely integrated together. What does this mean for us? More bandwidth, more connected devices and lower latency.
5G will deliver network performance far beyond anything it precedes, offering the possibility of higher speed and capacity, thus empowering the connectivity of a large number of devices to cell sites. Expectations around 5G download speeds vary, differing between more conservative estimates of anything between 10 to 1000 times faster than 4G, and even potentially exceeding 10Gbps. The technology’s capability to deliver a higher bandwidth and support more devices will collectively drive new possibilities in hyperconnected technologies such as IoT.
It will also drastically improve latency – the time between performing an action and getting a response. Once fully implemented, latency is anticipated to be as quick as just a few milliseconds, which translates into a world of virtually zero lag. In addition, the 5G infrastructure is estimated to be able to manage more than 10 times the number of connections than 4G. This means difficulty in accessing the network when in a busy area will become the exception rather than the norm.
Unlike previous networks such as 4G and LTE, 5G is not based on a single type of technology. Instead, the fifth generation will build on the existing 4G framework that’s already in place. Over time, the existing framework will be extended with 5G infrastructure.
These characteristics set 5G apart from the connectivity we have experienced before – and in fact, will enable the provisioning of next-generation digital services.
What’s the potential for a 5G connected world?
While 4G puts the innovation directly in the hands of consumers through devices such as smart phones, 5G will be more discrete. There are already 8.4 billion things, of which 74 million are managed by Vodafone, but the majority of these sit behind the scenes in homes, hospitals, in vehicles and office blocks. Of course, we’re all aware of the internet-enabled thermostat sitting on the wall, but unlike the ever present 4G devices, IoT devices using 5G will impact most people indirectly through the services and experiences they consume.
The improved network performance that 5G delivers becomes the platform for new use cases. In the automotive industry, 5G opens up the possibility for autonomous cars or connected cars utilising intelligent speed adaption when collecting data from the smart road maps. Directions, speed, and even the next song on your playlist could all be shown on the window screen using Augmented Reality, enabled by 5G’s ultra-low latency.
In fact, 5G is likely to improve all types of road travel. In addition to supporting fully-autonomous cars, 5G will also allow passengers to get online during their travel time. This is something Vodafone already started to bring about, working alongside Lamborghini to create a state of-the-art infotainment system using our IoT connectivity.
A next-generation network with higher speeds and latency will also replace Wi-Fi, and we are already seeing some trials taking place. Luxury automaker Audi is on track to transition to a private 5G network over the next few years for higher data speed and greater reliability, and other industry players such as BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen are also planning to follow suit.
But when will 5G arrive?
The deployment across different geographic markets is reliant on 5G radio spectrum auctions in each country. Hence, 5G will land at different times across the globe.
In Europe, the 5G race is off to a great start. We are working closely with the government in Italy to use test spectrum and have created a 5G network across Milan that enables entrepreneurs to develop use cases even before the technology is commercially available. In Germany, we have opened a 5G lab and have a test track at Aldenhoven where we work with automobile companies to develop new transport innovations utilizing 5G. Last year, we also conducted UK’s first live holographic call, a huge step for us as we prepare to roll out 5G telecom services to 1000 sites across Britain by 2020.
Closer to home, countries in Asia Pacific like Singapore and Australia are inching closer to the finish line, too. Last year, Singapore saw the first outdoor pilot of 5G New Radio in 3.5GHz frequency band. In 2019, 5G launches and trials will be a key focus for several local telecom operators.
Device manufacturers are also indicating that the first 5G device will be available in 2019. With all of this acknowledged, Vodafone’s view is that the industry will see growing device penetration from 2020.
The right now
While 5G will genuinely enable a huge leap forward in what connectivity can do, it is also important not to overhype its promise.
Ultimately, the complexity of operations will increase. Connecting everything and harnessing real-time data and analytics will become commonplace but it will take strategic investments, time and effort to jump on the 5G bandwagon without falling off midway.
It is now time for organisations to begin investigating how 5G could improve existing operational model and get ‘5G Ready’. Understanding and planning for the challenges and opportunities 5G will bring over the next couple of years will put organizations in good stead once the technology arrives in your market.
5G is the latest step in the evolving journey of mobile networking and already the signs are showing that it will be the most profound transformation that we’ve experienced in any prior generation of mobile technology. It is time organizations put some serious thought into the next iteration of their evolution.
Eric Wong, Head of Enterprise Solutions, Asia Pacific at Vodafone Business