What 5G could mean for your business

If boardroom battles blow over, 5G's rollout may change our mobile landscape in more ways than faster streaming possibilities.
14 March 2018

5G makes it easy to connect with consumers wherever they are. Source: StockSnap

Despite the machinations of the semiconductor and modem industry, it looks like 5G is going to become a reality in the next few years.

The consensus in the technology sector is that Qualcomm, a company with offices and a reach right across the globe, is at the forefront of the new wave of 5G-enabled hardware. But the company’s woes may well impinge on the timescales of 5G roll-out everywhere, meaning that 5G’s benefits and possibilities could be a little longer to market than many would like.

Qualcomm is currently working with an international group of 18 telecom providers each of whom are looking to upgrade their provision to offer the new platform. The telcos are: AT&T, British Telecom, China Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, KDDI, KT Corporation, LG Uplus, NTT DOCOMO, Orange, Singtel, SK Telecom, Sprint, Telstra, TIM, Verizon and Vodafone Group.

The benefits and effects accrued by hooking up to a 5G service are gradually being mapped out. Here are some wins and knock-ons of which we’re already aware:

5G smartphones.

The word smartphone is becoming something of an anachronism (although the more accurate “portable computer & communication device” would be something of a mouthful). As 5G lands, the data benefits to users will include:

  • No need for public wifi hotspots and an end to having to use hotels’ and cafés’ broadband services
  • Fast downloads, with a knock-on effect on smartphones’ storage capacity, which may need a boost in the medium term.

Better live VR and AR (virtual & augmented realities), available on demand. At present users of these technologies often have to download apps and scenes to get the full experience. New ways into virtual worlds will become available in many more scenarios on-the-fly: in the workplace, in public spaces, and in entertainment, education and infotainment settings.

Fixed-line broadband.

Expect to see traditional landline broadband speeds and infrastructure updated post haste as 5G rolls out. To compete with 5G’s speeds and low latency, landline suppliers will need to up their game to compete.

The arrival of fiber-to-the-workplace and fiber-to-the-home should accelerate as broadband providers will need to offer gigabit+ synchronous services to keep afloat.

In some areas, telecoms companies which own both mobile and land-based data networks will have some hard decisions to make: infrastructure for both networks is expensive to upgrade – how will the competing needs of customers inform suppliers’ spending decisions?

IoT and transport.

The data capacity and speed of 5G, plus its low latency will allow many new implementations of technology in remote devices, robots, and monitors, including those embedded into transportation.

UHD video, VR capture, and even 8k visuals will all be viable even for the lowliest of IoT devices, plus as-good-as real-time control will be possible for remote devices.

The technology’s low latency also makes 5G suited to autonomous vehicles and across transport control networks. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication will be fast enough to allow highly accurate control and better safety features.

Overarching traffic control systems will be able to prioritize traffic flows according to the time of day, traffic priorities and real-time events; steering downtown traffic around RTAs, for instance.

The oft-mentioned buzzphrases of “smart cities” and “smart buildings” could become a more common reality. In this respect, the spread of IoT is mirroring some other tech markets: the consumer space for IoT opens people to the concept, then the enterprise uses the new technology to drive business.

Qualcomm has announced that the first 5G devices will start to appear next year, but there have been several flies land in its ointment over the last twelve months which could cause delays.

Firstly, the company continues to be the subject of a hostile takeover by publicly-listed Broadcom, which has announced its intention of replacing Qualcomm’s management layer should the takeover go through. An ensuing change of direction, or at least a shift in priorities, is spooking the markets and bodes poorly for a smooth transition to 5G for the world. **STOP PRESS** President Trump has prevented the Broadcom attempted takeover.

Secondly, a few weeks ago, Qualcomm was fined by the European Commission (the European Community’s controlling body) a cool $1.2 billion, due to antitrust practices. The company allegedly paid Apple billions for Cupertino to choose solely Qualcomm to supply LTE chipsets in iPhones, from 2011 to 2016.

While the fine is a relatively small amount given the sums at stake over the next few years in the 5G space, the company’s previous practices will undoubtedly have to change, making a possible detour from its business roadmap a possibility.

While the headline speeds of 5G are amazing (100 times faster than 4G), the rate and timings of rollout may be a little more pedestrian should any of the company’s stumbles cause lasting trouble in the next few months.