From greater automation to seamless connectivity, the 5G rollout is being heralded as the game changer that will make truly connected workspaces and workforces a reality and unlock the potential of emerging technologies. It’s the network that will give businesses an opportunity to transform the user experience for both staff and customers. While the possibilities created are attractive, businesses should consider carefully how and why they want to use this technology.

Harnessing the power of 5G

5G has the potential to transform digital experience across multiple sectors, from providing the foundation for a robust IT infrastructure in the NHS that enables the crucial work of frontline, critical services to ensuring retailers meet the always-on demands of their customers.

5G promises to be up to 30 times faster than current network infrastructure and will allow for seemingly instantaneous two-way data transfer. This will unlock the potential for data to drive more efficient management of assets, resources and services and for advanced application-based solutions that once seemed out of reach to soon become a reality.

The potential of 5G to improve end-user experience

The 5G network will enable connectivity beyond the capability of its predecessors, releasing the full potential of the Internet of Things (IoT). It will advance mobile from a technology that connects people-to-people and people-to-information, to a central and unified process that connects everything to everything (X2X).

This potential for hyper-connectivity makes 5G probably the most transformational network since the internet developed. It will be the critical enabler of the smart city and requires a new level of intelligence delivered to the network edge: doctors will receive secure, live updates on patient wellbeing; connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) will seamlessly navigate a city’s roads and multi-location businesses will have access to central and reliable monitoring systems that will drive productivity across their estate.

As well as enabling the growing number of flexible and remote workers to stay fully connected, the speed of 5G will drive a major shift towards using data more effectively to manage assets, resources and services with greater efficiency. Public sector organisations will also have the opportunity to benefit from near-instantaneous two-way communication, enabling efficient management of services like local authority waste collection. Households in some European cities, for example, now deposit waste in municipal smart bins that monitor waste levels and optimise collection routes.

Beyond the smart city, one of the sectors most likely to benefit from the high-performance network is the logistics industry. Innovation using 5G and the IoT has the potential to streamline the manufacturing and delivery process; real-time tracking, including insight on delays or traffic surges, would remove the need for scan-points and deliver invaluable data to a central management system, automatically triggering a change in scheduling, routing or stock loading.

The challenges for an effective rollout

The ongoing development of 5G will drive demand for reliable, seamless fixed networks – all the potential benefits of the technology rely on upgrades in the UK’s core network being ready. It is critical that 5G signal get to a reliable, high capacity fixed network as quickly as possible.

Rural broadband connectivity remains an issue and, far from being a quick fix, 5G will still rely on the groundwork being in place. It’s likely that 5G will expand rather than close the digital divide – access is critical and while we are moving in the right direction, the country still needs to work to bring effective network coverage across the whole of the UK. There are some interesting case studies in the US about how agricultural communities are being connected using a combination of 5G and fixed networks.

The structural challenges posed by 5G means the rollout will be much more gradual than the seemingly sudden launch of 4G. All stakeholders, including the government and technology providers, must collaborate effectively if we are to achieve the end-goal of a fully connected and digital society.

5G will not be the ‘silver bullet’ for all businesses

A 5G-enabled society is certainly in the UK’s grasp, but getting there won’t be plain sailing. Hardware security concerns have already stalled the rollout of the UK’s 5G network, which will rely on a robust, future-proof network infrastructure. And, just as the country as a whole has work to do, so too do individual organisations if they are to maximise the potential of the network’s capability. Businesses must consider how they will access 5G, how this will sit with other services in their infrastructure, and how it will be budgeted for. As well as deployment, businesses must address security issues, which continue to be a concern.

The challenge for many businesses will be transitioning from traditional legacy systems, cultures and ways of working to enable them to make the most of the smart, new, connected world ahead. Limited budgets and the need for skilled IT teams to manage the transition to new technologies may also slow the progress of change for organisations.

While 5G will open up a hotbed of opportunity, it’s crucial that businesses walk before they can run. It is one thing to recognise the potential in the network, but another to ensure deployment will support a business, instead of creating a wave of unforeseen and uncosted threats that could leave you without a business at all.