What does 5G mean for the Internet of Things?

In a world that becomes more connected by the minute and reliant on the infrastructure that permits that connectivity, the approach of 5G is being heralded as a knight in shining armour. With UK rollout scheduled for 2020 (although some mobile networks have alluded to making 5G available sooner than that), some are predicting speeds more than 100 times faster than 4G, and barely detectable levels of lag.

In short, mobile is about to get faster, smoother and better with 5G. It is a more capable cellular standard that has positive implications for the Internet of Things (IoT). As the demand for data increases, 5G mobile networks are set to take on a support role by connecting elements of almost every business, allowing enterprises to offer new and better services, and shape new business models. It is hardly surprising that commentators predict very substantially increased investment in IoT endpoints to 2020, including in business vertical-specific and cross-business provision.

With this massive number of devices, speed and access will be key factors for those who need to provide a positive mobile user experience. 5G networks will be required not only to support increased traffic, but faster data transfer speeds, the productivity of mobile workers and remote endpoints. Essentially, 5G is a networking continuum that sees low power, latency and bandwidth (e.g. Bluetooth and LPWAN) networks at one end, and high power, latency and bandwidth (e.g. 4G/5G) at the other end.

Greater freedom for business

A key advantage that IoT gives to business, which will be enhanced by 5G, is the freedom to work anywhere, breaking free of physical location. This allows enterprises to become more responsive, flexible and functional. Business assets, be they objects or people, can be allocated without compromising the end result. These capabilities improve outcomes and enhance business relationships.

Of course, the 5G rollout will bring challenges, not least to companies that will have to upgrade existing infrastructures to get the benefits. Those benefits will also bring challenges in their wake. As connections proliferate and ever more data crosses digital boundaries, businesses must respond to increasingly strict regulation that ensures the safety and privacy of that data.

This requires businesses to build a comprehensive overview of their own IoT and safeguard data accordingly (a process that can differ substantially from that required to secure ‘ordinary’ data). In particular, they must differentiate customer and business data carefully.

But while the sheer scale of the 5G rollout makes it sensible to anticipate a few hitches, the relentless growth of IoT is now so established, and so clearly the destination for our modern personal, social, business and economic lives, that these barriers must simply be overcome so that the inevitable transition can occur.

Imminent transformation

The new 5G platform will free many companies, businesses and organisations to optimise their services and efficiency in a manner previously undreamed of. The current exodus from PC to mobile devices will be fuelled, and enterprises have no choice but to respond. This change is likely to be particularly visible in some sectors that are currently poised for IoT disruption. These include healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and transport and logistics.

In healthcare, for example, IoT is beginning to take off, but more importantly, its potential for future application is vast. From mobile devices and wearables that allow patient and physician to track health, to the provision of services like telemedicine and mobile clinics to populations in remote locations, the scope is massive and so are the potential benefits. If a patients’ wellbeing can be maintained within their community then the dangers of cross-infection and overcrowding in clinical facilities can be reduced, leading to better health, happier patients and staff, and reduced costs.

In a similar way, IoT gives retailers many opportunities to provide a genuinely omni-channel provision, pleasing customers through better retail experiences, customer service and stock control. As mobile proliferates amongst shoppers and retailers, this is the medium through which more sales will be made, thus retailers simply cannot afford to ignore the facts. The coming of 5G offers huge opportunities, but it is up to retailers themselves to seize them.

The time to act is now

To summarise, the direction of travel is clearly for businesses to operate through mobile first technology, and the advent of 5G will greatly enhance the quality of service and opportunities this provides. However, the 5G rollout will also present challenges, such as GDPR compliance and infrastructure upgrades. Savvy enterprises are already strategizing their use of IoT in the 5G era and acting upon those plans. Whatever you do, make sure your business doesn’t get left behind.

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