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There are a lot of reasons to get excited about 5G mobile technology. But be wary of jumping on the bandwagon too soon — it’s going to be a while before 5G becomes the standard.

Technology

5G: The Next Big Thing?

  • Kelly Smith
  • 9/16/2019

5G is the newest buzzword in the mobile community. And with each major carrier rolling it out in select markets, it’s difficult to ignore the possibility it holds for the future. From self-driving cars to increased automation processes and advanced technologies, 5G could change how the average business and consumer operates. But you may want to temper your expectations and consider the bigger picture. Much like those self-driving vehicles, 5G has a long way to go.

What is 5G and where is it?

5G stands for fifth generation and will be one of the fastest technologies to date. The network will have the capacity to support more devices at greater speeds and will allow for improved connectivity — which is essential to a growing mobile marketplace.

For many years, there has been talk about the possibility of creating a network that can fully support the internet of things (IoT), which would allow us to connect cities in ways that we haven’t seen before. Many carriers suggest that 5G could be that network. With the anticipated bandwidth, we could expect to see more devices connected than ever before, including smartwatches, VR devices, drones, robots, and even self-driving cars eventually.

However, like with the 4G rollout, it takes time to build a strong network nationwide. Whether you’re an average consumer or a corporation, you may be tempted to spend that a little bit extra to get the latest and greatest. But you might want to consider a few factors before making that choice.

Network

Right now, 5G isn’t available in all areas. In fact, it’s only available in very limited test markets with each provider. For example, Verizon has 5G in a few cities, with the goal to be in 30 cities by the end of 2019. However, even in those cities, 5G is limited to certain areas. AT&T has begun offering what they dub 5G Evolution, but has come under fire because it’s really only a light version of 5G. While it’s available in more cities than Verizon’s service, it isn’t the true 5G people were expecting.

A network of this magnitude will take time to build and even more time to perfect — maybe even two to three years. So you might want to hold off on ordering any 5G devices until these networks become fully established.

Plan compatibility

If history has shown us anything, consumers will want access to the latest mobile network, and carriers will require them to transition to a new plan — and it will probably be more expensive. That said, it’s unlikely that 5G will be available on all of the plans that carriers offer today. This remains to be seen as 5G isn’t big enough yet to warrant special plans or pricing. But it has been the trend with each new wireless generation, so it’s likely that we’ll see the same happen with 5G.

Device compatibility

As the new network ramps up, consumers might run into issues with device compatibility. In fact, some carriers have already wound down their 2G network, impacting data-only devices. And it’s possible that they will stop supporting 3G, which will be problematic for those still using older phones. Moving forward, if mobile phone users wish to utilize 5G speeds, they will need to purchase compatible devices.

According to a survey from Gallup, 44% of smartphone users replace their phones every two years and 54% of users replace their phones when it stops working or becomes obsolete. Consumers looking to replace their phones during the early days of 5G will have to choose between a 4G device and one of the more expensive 5G-compatible options. Right now, compatible devices are quite limited (think the newest Samsung Galaxy devices), and many of them use similar hardware as 4G devices. So when going in for your next upgrade, consider carefully before shelling out the extra change for 5G tech that you may never have the chance to use.

IT directors and others who are responsible for mass rollouts will have to make a similar decision, but on a much larger scale. Like the average consumer, if your company is looking to purchase a large quantity of devices (say, 20 – 200), you’ll need to decide if you’re better off buying the newest phones with 5G capability or saving some money and sticking with the old tech. At the rate technology is moving, it seems wiser to opt out of 5G devices until you know how it will affect your company and users directly. Right now, the benefits are slim and will likely remain as such until we see 5G become available on a national level.

5G in retail, health care, and government

Some industries could be impacted more than others, including retail. This past year we’ve seen a rollout of cashierless stores, self-checkouts, and cellphone apps that allow users to scan barcodes and get product information online, including competitor price comparisons. 5G may give retailers new ways to automate their processes and increase efficiencies.

The health care industry may see new opportunities with the faster network that could allow hospitals and physicians to deliver results and communicate with patients more efficiently.

Government entities may also benefit. There has long been talk about designing smart cities, but implementation is difficult. Some examples of how that could look include smart meters for electricity and water, smart traffic lights that can react to traffic, Wi-Fi in public spaces, smart crosswalks, and more. We’ve already scratched the surface with 4G, and it will be exciting to see what a greater capacity network might bring in the future.

Plan ahead

The mobile world has undergone significant changes in the last 10 years. It’s almost impossible to imagine a time when we couldn’t check emails on our phone or when we couldn’t even send a simple text or picture message. The update from 3G to 4G was monumental. It shifted the field and connected us all in a brand new way. With 5G, we may see a whole new level of capabilities as we become connected in new ways.

When thinking about the future, either as a consumer or from a business perspective, consider your immediate needs and what your needs may be later on down the line. Is it worth the extra $200 - $400 for a device with tech you may not fully utilize in the next year or two? If you are looking on behalf of your business, you may have other options for upgrades and cost savings (if that is your goal).

Ultimately, ask yourself what 5G will do for you or for your company. If you don’t have an answer, you may want to hold off until you know how you’ll benefit.

How we can help

5G is going to happen. There’s no getting around it. CLA’s telecom advisory team will stay on top the network’s progress over the next few years, including how it affects the mobile marketplace and future telecom expenses. With each new network, we’ve seen a major shift in how carriers offer plans and discounts. We will monitor 5G to see how this will impact the current platforms so we can help our clients navigate the expense.