Just when you were placating your users on 4G, the carriers are introducing a new standard.  But don’t toss out your phone just yet.


Image credit: IEEE Future Directions

4G isn’t going anywhere soon, and 5G will, at least for a while, be compatible with 4G.  The advantages of 5G are more speed, less latency, and a greater number of device able to connect. 

The good news is you have plenty of time; while some carriers are releasing their 5G technology into the wild this year, and in some cases on a limited basis, we’re looking at 2020 before 5G approaches the ubiquity we have in 4G.

While there is a need for high speed transfer of data to stream content, the real benefit, and the gamble, of 5G is the Internet of Things (IoT).  As the PC Magazine article points out, the ability to connect vast amounts of appliances at higher, unlicensed frequencies gives 5G the edge over current technologies.

The infrastructure has the potential to change too.  While cell towers won’t go away, 5G can take advantage of small cells, even down to the home router.  The more cells you have, the better 5G will function and be able to handle the tonnage of connectivity associated with IoT.  Personally, I think this type of connectivity may also, finally, open up cell service to remote areas where carriers have traditionally been reluctant to invest in large towers for a low revenue stream.

What’s not to like?

According to this article in Bloomberg News, the cost of implementation may not be worth the reward.

The projected $200 billion a year to get to 5G will present a difficult return on investment in a market that is already saturated and, quite frankly, just another commodity.  What’s the pain point for the average cell phone user when it comes to price? Do you really care if you can modulate your refrigerator’s temperature from your iPhone? The carrier business is a viciously competitive landscape where companies will undercut competitor’s prices quicker than a Vegas bookie looking to lay off sucker’s bets on the Cleveland Browns (0-16 for the non-football bettors out there).

As a CIO, you still need to plan for the advent of 5G, even if it turns out (and I don’t think it will) to be the Edsel of telecommunications.  Users will want support for new appliances. For those in the manufacturing, transportation, medical device industries, and others, the IoT possibilities are legitimate avenues to better efficiency and management.  The infrastructure changes you may need to make need to be part of the plans. The smaller cell technology will mean hardware the size of small refrigerator at each site and you’ll need, as ever, to put a security plan in place especially if your IoT plan includes the UPS in your data center, driverless semi-trucks, or a patient’s dialysis pump.

But, as the Bloomberg articles also points out, a lot of CIOs are already engaged in wireless IoT; the technology runs just fine on 4G.  

That being said, technology rarely stops in its tracks, or reverts back to tried and true products.  5G, and the technology enabling devices to connect to it, and manage it (think BYOD), will arrive, no matter how difficult and expensive the trip down the birth canal.

One more thing to plan for as a CIO; your budget.  From new carrier contracts to new devices chattering away on the 5G network, you’ll need to justify the expense to management, and the best way to do that is to show process efficiency.

Like all technology, 5G isn’t about the technology.