Despite early 5G obstacles that included price premiums, limited access and stalled deployments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 5G service is starting to hit the mainstream. All U.S. carriers now offer consumer 5G and most have removed any price premium. While some rollouts were delayed, carriers pushed forward because of the boost in consumers working from home.
Smartphones and mobile internet access won't be the only 5G use case. For consumers, the acceptability of current 4G LTE performance, data caps and legacy devices could inhibit 5G adoption. But, at the same time, some key 5G benefits could accelerate 5G enterprise use cases.
1. Fixed wireless
One of the top 5G enterprise use cases is fixed wireless -- essentially, replacing broadband internet with a wireless connection. For retail locations, multi-tenancy situations, remote locations and mobile environments, 5G will make it easier for branch locations to stay connected to headquarters. Also, expect to see significant increases in the use of software-defined WAN as fixed wireless rolls out. As more companies expand their work-from-home programs, fixed 5G could offer additional bandwidth and better quality of service for enterprise applications that need to cross over to cellular networks.
2. Health sector
The health sector has significant 5G use cases and opportunities. Today, many medical IT groups deal with surgical equipment that needs to be both connected and air-gapped from their networks for security reasons. Mobile health workers need access in the field during incidents, and critical patient diagnostic data needs to be transmitted between ambulances and emergency rooms. 5G is a great tool for these areas where latency, security and high bandwidth are all critical. As contact tracing and mapping become more common after the COVID-19 outbreak, 5G has an opportunity to play a role with mobile contact tracers.
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3. Sensor-based systems
Wherever large numbers of sensors and connected devices have been deployed -- such as manufacturing, building maintenance, agriculture or transportation -- 5G will enable massive amounts of telemetry and system information to be transmitted back to analytics and operations systems. Consider the Target data breach in 2013: The security breach of a third-party heating, ventilation and air conditioning vendor compromised Target's financial data. In a 5G world, the vendors could manage the sensor-based systems without relying on the host company's network.
4. Network edge
As the network edge continues to expand, 5G has an opportunity to provide both failover connectivity for SD-WAN and primary connectivity for applications that need to run in remote locations. With 5G's ample bandwidth, computing can happen at the network edge with connectivity back to the headquarters, expanding the network footprint. As SD-WAN and work from home push the network edge in new directions, 5G will have an important part to play, especially in mobile or remote applications.
5. Remote devices and augmented reality
Precision control of remote devices will become more of a reality as 5G's 99.999% availability and massive bandwidth better enable remote monitoring and operation of equipment. 5G enables robotic devices to handle dangerous activities, such as environmental cleanup or unexploded ordnance removal, at a distance with more safety and precision. While virtual reality may still face bandwidth challenges on a 5G connection, 5G presents a significant opportunity for augmented reality where smaller datasets and information need to be overlaid on real-time video for repair, servicing or safety applications.
6. Connected vehicles
Much has already been said about connected vehicles and their need for 5G based on the huge amount of telemetry they transmit. But, as the world moves closer to semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles, low-latency 5G will be instrumental as real-time interaction and video will be necessary for system-level decision-making. Much of the artificial intelligence capability for these vehicles will need to be delivered via 5G because the compute will happen at the data center, not in the vehicle.
7. Metropolitan areas and smart cities
Today's metropolitan areas are becoming more connected. But, in the future, 5G use cases will help accelerate the idea of smart cities. Residential services -- such as streetlights, traffic signals and security -- could benefit from 5G. Public safety applications are starting deployment to assist law enforcement. Surveillance cameras and network video recorders will consume significant bandwidth when they support the high resolution needed to identify criminals. Additionally, citywide monitors that triangulate gunshots will demand the lowest latency possible -- an area where 5G excels.
Across the board, consumers and businesses can envision 5G use cases. While the consumer benefits are nice to have, the business benefits will be far more critical, driving faster 5G adoption on the business side.