What does 5G mean for business networks?
There is a lot of technology generating excitement for more applications than we could hope to name. One central theme to virtually all of that technology is an increased demand on data and need of higher bandwidth for connectivity. More devices than ever are actively communicating, and they are placing massive burdens on existing infrastructure. Copper networks and 4G wireless have a shelf life. Within the next couple of years, they will no longer be able to service standard demands — much less cutting-edge applications. Ultimately, we all need a network that is built for the new age of connectivity. That network will run on 5G.
What Is A 5G Network?
The name itself refers to fifth generation mobile wireless networking. In effect, it is an overall upgrade to every aspect of performance in mobile networks. It’s designed for faster data rates, more connectivity and traffic, lower power demands and lower deployment costs. It’s still largely in a developmental phase. Components of 5G networking are ready to go to market, but large scale networks are still primarily in testing phases. Because of that, raw data on 5G performance is a mix of practical and theoretical.
5G aims to achieve data rates up to 20 Gbps. Early iterations might be slower, but 5G is intended to provide Gigabit or faster wireless connections. It can also operate with a theoretical 1ms latency. In order to achieve these impressive numbers, it will largely be built on optical transceivers and a solid fiber backbone.
How Is it Different From 4G?
Aside from the raw performance improvements, 5G is embracing a fundamentally different design philosophy. 4G and its predecessors are designed around massive towers. Any individual tower is intended to handle many thousands of users and transmit across kilometers of air. 5G is completely abandoning this approach.
The primary design of the new networks incorporates far more network nodes. By attaching optical transceivers to fiber networks, 5G wireless can create coverage that serves far fewer users per node. Ultimately, this decentralizes the 5G hardware. The smaller, faster devices can be mounted with greater freedom than traditional cellular towers, and the result is a more robust, scalable network.
You can loosely compare this design to other modern, decentralized concepts. IoT and blockchain both try to connect as many different users as freely as possible, and 5G is being engineered to support those demands.
The Bottom Line on 5G
When it comes to business infrastructure, there are key takeaways from this 5G overview. First, 5G is an inevitable necessity. Traffic demands are only growing, and 4G is already up against a wall. Any applications that have to cover more area than is economical with Wi-Fi need to already consider moving towards 5G.
Another huge takeaway is 5G’s reliance on fiber infrastructure. This isn’t entirely new; 90 percent of internet data is carried on fiber optic lines already. The difference is that 5G aims to reduce the distance between cellular relays and the fiber backbone. For your infrastructure, that means that a fiber network is key to any system that spans more than 500m in a single direction.
The last takeaway is equally important. 5G runs on optical transceivers. These use far less power than slower alternatives, and it means that large networks with many nodes will be more affordably served by 5G than older technology. The hybrid of fiber and optical components gives network designers far more freedom. The idea that a faster, more reliable, large-scale wireless network will also be more affordable might seem like a pipe dream, but that’s the promise of 5G. Just keep in mind that it only saves money after you have access to fiber-optics infrastructure.
Into the Future and Beyond
The world’s network is only as fast as the weakest link, if traffic coming in from mobile devices, or even laptops and PC’s connected to the wireless network, is requesting data from end points on much slower networks, the whole thing is slowed down. This requires every network everywhere to get faster than the internet connectivity itself. For almost the entire life of the internet this has always been the opposite - the LAN’s of the world have always been faster than the WAN’s they’re connected to. The interconnects, being the slowest link, have allowed the mindset that “data transfer just takes time” and therefore the lack of performance of the LAN has not been noticeable, even with local network applications (ERP, intranet, email, etc). In the new world of 5G some data transfers (where the LAN’s on the other end are as fast) are going to retrain the brain to what “fast” really is, making the rest of the connected world seem instantly slow.
From that point it’s a race to get “up to speed” so to speak. Everyone will need to bring their LAN and end points to the speed of light, literally. If not, your users will feel like dial up users in a broadband world. If your network speed matters to your customers, you might find yourself at the wrong end of the spectrum (see what I did there?) in the competitive landscape.
Connectivity is changing fast. 5G isn’t just on the way. It’s effectively here. It will be up to leading-edge companies and early adopters to take the technology from testing to widespread use, but the days of wonder how far away it is are gone. Any business with any level of connectivity demand is going to have to face this next upgrade path. It can be folded into your IoT or other data-intense projects, or you can simply futureproof. Regardless of the motivation, it’s vital to start planning today.
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