And what your business can glean from these first steps
The business world is preparing for next-generation 5G connectivity with optimism. As media coverage continues to add to the buzz from every angle, big businesses are taking pioneering steps toward adoption. But if you’re a decision-maker in a mid-sized business and thinking you’ll just wait until the dust settles, you might be missing an opportunity to learn from the innovators and early adopters.
To put the potential of 5G into perspective, consider this: the transition from 3G to 4G made possible businesses like Uber, Airbnb and the evolution of Netflix from a DVD rental service to what it is today. If businesses like these were born out of faster, more reliable mobile networks, 5G connectivity (which will be 100 times faster than 4G) will certainly be a major driver in the future of business.
What are big businesses doing and what can we learn from them? Let’s look at Amazon. One of the greatest 5G opportunities for the online shopping behemoth is arguably the full automation of its warehouses. Like many people who use their services, you might be under the misconception that after hitting the ‘place order’ button, a series of connected robots pull, package, label and ship your order— but that’s only partially the case.
Amazon’s warehouses won’t be fully automated for some time, or at least not until their robots can rapidly process the data needed to handle the vast variety of products they ship without risk of breaking them. But, as we saw in Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress technology event earlier this year, robots that use superfast 5G connectivity and ultra-low latency will be able to perform the most delicate physical tasks and also progressively learn and optimize their performance on the job thanks to artificial intelligence capabilities.
The takeaway for mid-sized businesses? Look at the possibilities for automation within your own distribution systems and lay the foundation for the future. Like Amazon, you’ll likely conclude that total automation is a stretch goal for now; however, this giant of online retail is investing in more robotics and identifying areas for improvement. Similarly, you can identify the opportunities and challenges of ultra-fast speeds and ultra-low latency today and put your business ahead of your competition when 5G hits the mainstream.
Higher bandwidths and ultra-low latency are especially interesting to automakers. The ability to transmit data between vehicles and the cloud in real-time has sparked creative ideas ranging from traffic and safety controls to autonomous cars. While the long game may equate to self-driving cars and safer roads, the applications for instantaneous connectivity and real-time information should get supply chain and logistics managers excited, too. Keeping track of many moving parts efficiently requires a continual stream of information and updates, and the next-generation networks will make this real-time economy possible.
The 5G future will not only outperform existing technology in speed and latency; rather, for some IoT applications, it will also require far less power. Low-power, wide-area networks like LTE-M are being built to cater to the increasing connectivity requirements of IoT. Sensors are becoming less expensive, enabling more IoT devices to connect wirelessly to cloud-based platforms that can quickly analyze data and transmit in real-time. The result is businesses that are more efficient. This means more connected devices can be in the field for longer with less downtime for maintenance like battery replacement.
From automating distribution and production to increasing safety and efficiency to monitoring equipment health, harnessing the power of 5G will help businesses of all sizes. The key is to start thinking about the possibilities today.