millimeter wave (MM wave) network slicing

The pros and cons of 5G networks

Enterprises are evaluating 5G and its effect on their operations. Before they can reap the benefits, they have to consider these 5G pros and cons.

Even as carriers continue to target consumers with their 5G services, enterprises will reap the most benefits from the latest cellular standard. But faster wireless connectivity won't come without a cost. Many businesses will have to retool their infrastructure in order to take advantage of 5G's performance. Here are 10 5G pros and cons enterprises face as they begin to adopt the 5G connectivity standard and its associated products and services.

5G pros

1. Speed

With a theoretical speed of up to 20 Gbps, 5G offers data rates that are orders of magnitude greater than 4G and 4G LTE. The actual speed an enterprise customer will be able to exploit from its 5G provider will depend upon a variety of factors, among them proximity to towers, the technological sophistication of the carrier itself and whether or not network components have been engineered to support multigigabit performance. That said, 5G will enable enterprise use of services -- such as automation and advanced video conferencing capabilities that were unavailable with older standards. Not only does 5G offer higher speeds, but it offers something equally important: low latency.

2. Low latency

5G significantly reduces the time it takes for network devices to respond to commands. With 4G, latency ranges from approximately 60 milliseconds to 98 ms. 5G reduces latency to less than 5 ms, but the ultimate target, according to standards body 3rd Generation Partnership Project, is under 2 ms. With latencies this low, the lag that can plague real-time communications is all but eliminated. The result will be a new generation of wireless services that will work identically, regardless of their location. Improved latency is also a central component of standalone 5G, which carriers are now testing and rolling out.

3. Capacity

5G supports the simultaneous connection of many more devices than 4G -- up to 10 times more per square kilometer by some estimates. Therefore, enterprises no longer have to assess their cellular and Wi-Fi wireless strategies as an either/or proposition. With 5G, companies can switch between cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity as needed, without fear that performance will suffer or that mobile broadband accessibility is limited, especially in high-congestion environments, such as New York City and other major urban areas. 5G's additional capacity will fuel a dramatic increase in IoT as businesses find themselves able to deploy more connected devices to monitor systems and perform other operations.

4. New generation of AI- and machine learning-based services

5G will fuel the emergence of a new generation of interactive services based on AI and machine learning. Video conferencing that features augmented reality or virtual reality, for example, can simulate environments and help employees make better decisions about projects. Automation will enable enterprises to rely on applications and services that are more responsive and predictive than they are currently.

5. Rethinking the network

5G will be the impetus leading companies to reimagine their networks. Branch offices could use 5G as their primary connectivity medium, relying on multiple carriers for internet service via SIM cards. Offices -- both centralized and remote -- could take advantage of additional automation and security capabilities. Edge computing will become more predominant, thanks to 5G-compatible components that can rapidly process and respond to requests, reducing the need for data center backhaul. Finally, enterprises will be able to launch new suites of specialized services.

5G cons

1. Security

5G's transport security algorithms are more comprehensive than those supported by the 4G standard, but enterprises might encounter other cybersecurity issues. The sheer number of IoT devices and components attached to 5G networks will dramatically increase enterprise exposure to threats as attackers attempt to exploit vulnerabilities. The 5G devices themselves could also be cause for concern, as chips and other components engineered to drive those devices could be infected with malware by nation-state actors. Enterprises will also need to carefully weigh the use of network slicing -- creating a virtual network to carry a dedicated application or service -- with their 5G networks. 5G management software can be vulnerable to attacks; a breach in any part of the carrier's or enterprise's infrastructure could create serious security problems throughout the network. Vendors and carriers are expected to actively market private 5G networks this year. Private 5G networks are an option for companies with a lower tolerance for risk.

2. Capex/Opex

To fully reap 5G's benefits, enterprises will have to upgrade and replace network components with those designed with processors engineered to support the standard's higher speeds and performance metrics. Even as more 5G-compatible equipment becomes available, enterprises will still have to contend with ways to maximize their 5G investments when a sizable amount of their network infrastructure is wedded to legacy equipment. Price points will be a critical consideration as carrier and equipment pricing remains in flux.

3. Uneven coverage

Carriers have accelerated their deployment of 5G, in part by acquiring spectrum that permits different transmission alternatives than millimeter wave (mmWave). Yet, many areas of the United States won't have 5G coverage for years. Enterprises that have offices in rural locations may be particularly vulnerable to gaps in 5G coverage and will have to rely on a mix of legacy connectivity technologies. As a result, companies that don't have access to 5G -- or those forced to wait for an extended period before carriers offer 5G service in their areas -- could suffer competitively.

4. Line of sight/penetration issues

Common objects can easily block the high-frequency signals of mmWave, so ensuring consistent coverage throughout office and factory settings can be an issue. As a result, enterprises may have to redesign some facilities to guarantee adequate service or use midband or low-band 5G flavors -- if they are available by carriers -- to extend coverage. Another option, primarily for private 5G networks, is Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum.

5. The hype factor

Claims from carriers and vendors can overwhelm enterprises as they assess how 5G will affect their operations. Companies need to take the time to fully understand how they intend to exploit 5G to get the most benefit from the technology and how to justify the ROI required. 5G is unlike other technologies initially driven by enterprises and then adopted by consumers. In 5G's case, it's the other way around. Widespread enterprise adoption will be stymied until 5G-compatible devices become commonplace, 5G-specific applications and services are developed, and true 5G connectivity is reliably and ubiquitously available.

This was last published in April 2022

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