All major telecommunications carriers are now deploying 5G cellular technology in their mobile networks. Businesses should consider not only the 5G benefits, but also the 5G limitations as they plan their wireless networks for the future.
5G technology delivers low latency and high-speed bandwidth, which offers better support for real-time applications and data-rich mobile apps, resulting in better overall UX. Now that almost all handsets support 5G with essentially no price premium, all new mobile phone purchases should have a 5G requirement.
But, while the technology greatly extends 3G, 4G and LTE cellular infrastructure, 5G does have a few drawbacks that businesses should consider when looking to replace previous generations of wireless technologies.
Below are four 5G limitations enterprise network teams could face with the technology.
While mobile networks are deploying more 5G towers and transmitters on a regular basis, proximity will remain an issue. To get the best 5G connections, you need to be in proximity to 5G infrastructure. Dense urban areas will have better 5G coverage, but even that is limited.
For example, I live in the center of Austin, Texas, and my carrier's map shows 5G coverage. However, I can barely get a 4G LTE signal. In some cases, 4G networks will deliver higher data rates than 5G because of a lack of signal proximity. Here's an example from the end of my driveway.
5G primarily uses millimeter wavelengths, which are smaller than 3G and 4G, and they don't travel as far. While the 5G coverage profile is smaller, the 5G signal can carry more data. To combat this limitation, carriers are deploying a much larger array of antennas to provide enough coverage.
Beamforming is also used with these larger arrays to help the 5G system overcome more obstacles by enabling packets to traverse multiple routes to reach a client. Businesses that hope to use beamforming technology will need to investigate their carriers' 5G coverage maps. Carriers are deploying 5G now, with increasing coverage in urban areas; 5G network deployment will expand over time to more rural or remote locations.
2. Spectrum and bandwidth
Spectrum and bandwidth are improving as service providers share more of their radio frequency between 4G and 5G. While carriers are continuing to open more of their allocated spectrum to high-speed 5G, the prized performance and low latency of 5G will mostly come in the millimeter wave deployments, and these will be far more limited in distance, reflecting the proximity issue.
Spectrum is a key consideration in choosing both carriers and equipment. Much of the 5G deployment will be over existing 3G and 4G spectrum, enabling backward compatibility with older devices.
One of the ways 5G will overcome the bandwidth limitations of today's systems is through network slicing. Network slicing takes a page from the virtualization trend that has driven greater density, capacity and capability in data centers by "slicing" up resources in order to share more idle resources and increase overall usage. With network slicing, 5G carriers have better utilization of their networks, handling more users and transferring more data simultaneously.
3. Rural and remote locations
Rural and remote locations have not changed much as the 5G rollouts have focused on urban areas, but carriers have begun discussing fixed 5G options to connect to home Wi-Fi. Rural locations did see a boost in broadband offerings with Starlink satellite service competing with the predominant HughesNet for rural internet via satellite, but we have yet to see a meaningful push on rural 5G.
Rural and remote locations probably won't have 5G service until well after most urban buildouts have been completed. While 5G applications abound in areas such as agriculture and mining, where remote access is required, carriers might not find it cost-effective to deploy 5G in some remote locations. However, a remote rollout could happen if a large customer is willing to help cover costs or an existing cabled backhaul already exists.
Much of what will drive 5G deployment expansion will be the economic ROI that a carrier can capture from a particular geographic region. Economically speaking, the 5G sweet spot for carriers is when they take 3G and 4G systems offline or reduce the footprint.
Security is a chief concern for both carriers and businesses. The overall architecture of 5G, especially in the back-end provisioning and handling, provides the opportunity for better and more granular security capabilities on the carrier side. Additionally, as we have seen with previous wireless technology transitions, security is primarily addressed on the latest platforms first, so it's assumed 5G largely delivers better security.
5G has a different security model than 3G and 4G as it includes new security capabilities. The good news for businesses is carriers will handle most of this implementation. But, for businesses that build network services on top of 5G cellular networks, understanding these new security models will be critical to ensure they are building comprehensive, secure services.
Overall, businesses are now in a better position than ever to explore the opportunities that 5G brings as the benefits can clearly improve mobile communications. However, the actual transition needs to comprehend not just the benefits, but the challenges as well.
While some 5G limitations are evident, the long-term advantages of 5G will outweigh the disadvantages of 5G. And, on balance, 5G will introduce new opportunities for businesses to become more agile and competitive over time.