Many organisations and industries are seeing a major digital revolution, and with all the data generated it is apparent that existing networks are going to struggle to cope with future connectivity needs. This is where we will see 5G stepping in, the fifth-generation cellular wireless iteration and latest technology in mobile connectivity that delivers 100 times more bandwidth than 4G.
5G enables better data availability and much faster speeds, unleashing a plethora of spin-off advantages for the enterprise, as well as the ability to update various areas of business operations. The speed and latency of bandwidth transfer enable more wired devices to run, be connected and virtual networks to be introduced which is vital as we enter a digitised future, led by the fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Connectivity thus becomes one of the fundamental needs in South Africa (SA) and as we advance, bandwidth is of paramount importance as new applications that require the use of Internet arise.
However, with these advantages to 5G, there are also a few challenges that it presents. There are three main disadvantages of 5G. The first is the requirement for additional infrastructure, the resultant cost and finally, the impact on security. 5G networks are built on a modern technology called millimetre waves which use short frequencies (mmWave). They also cover a much shorter distance when compared to 4G wavelengths. This means there is a need for more infrastructure than with previous iterations.
As such, 5G networks require more repeaters to boost the signal at a shorter distance. In a vast geographical region, such as SA, this is challenging as the rollout is more costly and thus slower, resulting in ‘pockets’ of coverage.
5G will provide an improved connectivity service when coverage is available over a vast region, extending beyond just business and home so that individuals can easily utilise the network when travelling.
The last disadvantage is a two-edged sword. With 5G, data is generated incredibly faster and with this, cybersecurity becomes a concern. This is due to decentralised security arising from expanded use of end-point devices and an increase in high-speed bandwidth that creates a strain on existing security monitoring tools. In addition, a lack of encryption could leave companies and individuals vulnerable to attacks.
Will this make WiFi6 obsolete and what would it do to IoT?
One of the biggest concerns around 5G’s implementation is the perception that it renders WiFi6, the latest iteration of WiFi standards, obsolete. The fact is that both technologies are complementary. To explain further, WiFi6 is optimised for connectivity within the home or office space, while 5G is an outdoor technology that provides fast, stable connectivity when on the move.
5G will also positively impact the Internet of Things (IoT), a network of sensors and edge devices that by nature requires a fast network, such as 5G, to run optimally. For SA, IoT supported by 5G could totally change the game. In addition to faster data speeds, it lays the groundwork for more advanced connected technologies. SA is also at a point where many users still need to be ‘hard-cabled’ in their offices due to low signal strength, and although our major cities are well connected, most of the country currently lacks connectivity especially in rural areas. These rural areas also where farms and mines are situated, and these industries will benefit immensely from connected technologies.
Digital twins, a digital replica of a living or non-living physical entity according to Wikipedia, enable companies to collect statistics on the performance of machines in order to analyse whether they need to be maintained or fixed. The concept, boosted by IoT, has improved the ability to share data thanks to the bandwidth that is now usable as a result of 5G being introduced.
Industries to be affected most by 5G
Faster connectivity will enhance healthcare and educational opportunities as well as safety and security in historically isolated and underserved communities, delivering the benefits of technology to all.
However, in theory, every industry will benefit from 5G, and we will also see new industries created with the aid of higher data speed and availability. For example, Netflix and the entire video streaming industry is underpinned by high-speed connectivity and data transfers, and in a similar vein, we will continue to see the expansion of new industries due to the uptake of 5G.
The manufacturing industry will also benefit from 5G significantly. Manufacturing plants could link their devices and access data in real-time through a digital twin concept. The digital twin will enable predictive maintenance by allowing organisations to understand how long the machinery will work till its next service through the analysis of data. It can also provide information on the best way to operate, ‘kick start’ or control machinery. This is because a digital twin is a computer program that uses real-world data to generate models that can forecast the success of a product or process. At the end of the day, 5G enables real-time servicing, streamlines business operations and saves the organisation in costs. Additionally, if we look at the bigger picture, it drives a healthier economy.
What to do when 5G officially arrives
Organisations must start preparing for 5G to make the transition seamless when fully deployed in SA. It is highly beneficial for companies to partner with the right IT business to take advantage of this new connectivity in their business. A skilled and experienced IT partner can help build, grow and introduce innovative technologies that require high-speed connectivity to drive competitive edge whilst ensuring security is bolstered. With the implementation done correctly, 5G will impact the generation and protection of information of the business positively. South African organisations will eventually get to the point where they are fully prepared for 5G, but at this point, we still have some way to go.
- Vishal Barapatre is CTO of In2IT Technologies