With countries around the globe in a neck-and-neck race to be first, 5G technology development is advancing forward at a pace that rivals the speed it promises to bring to mobile connectivity. The major differences between 5G and its predecessors stand to revolutionize how we do business in the digital age. How will 5G’s promise of enhanced connectivity reshape the field service industry?
What is 5G?In the vaguest terms, 5G is fundamentally the next step in mobile communications. As logic would have it, 5G will follow 4G, which followed 3G and 2G. Each evolution of this mobile technology ushered in a new era of mobile communications. Remember those early text messages? They were basically the MS-DOS of mobile communications. Then we were suddenly able to send images and surf the net on our phones. The numerical component in front of the ‘G’ basically has always indicated a new step forward.
5G is no different. This new advancement in mobile communications is the response to a need for more bandwidth. With more devices connecting to the Internet and each other, the amount of space available on the radio spectrum for these devices to broadcast gets smaller and smaller. This is why 5G is looking to expand the radio frequency spectrum beyond the traditional 6GHz to between 30 and 300 GHz. So-called millimeter waves.
What does that mean? In layman’s terms, it means speeds about 100 times faster than the current 4G standard and even 10 times faster than broadband connections. Even more tangible: imagine downloading an entire HD movie in one second!
How Far Along Are We with 5G?
There are a number of big tech companies running test trials across the globe. Many governments are also making provisions in their telecommunications development strategies to expand 5G networks. Nevertheless, there are still some major hurdles to overcome.
As already mentioned, 5G technology is dependent on expanding the available bandwidth by broadcasting on millimeter waves. However, this technology is not without its limitations. Millimeter waves are unable to penetrate things in their path. Whereas 4G technology might not penetrate thick walls, the millimeter waves forming the backbone of 5G technology have trouble penetrating more banal objects. Like trees. Since deforestation is not the end goal, 5G developers are focusing on workarounds.
What are small cell networks?
The most promising solution for millimeter waves’ tendency to get absorbed and blocked is the creation of small cell networks. Instead of the large and sparsely distributed cell towers that we associate with telecommunications, small cell networks will consist of mini base-stations located much more closely together. This means signals will not have to pass through trees or buildings. They can simply switch from base station to base station as the devices change position.
Installing the small cell network infrastructure to make the switch to millimeter wave frequency will involve substantial investments. As such, many mobile operators are first focusing on upgrading their 4G networks. This is not entirely illogical as many functionalities of 5G are built on 4G. For example, adding bandwidth to 4G and investing in MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology can extend the life of 4G technology until it is clear that there will be a legitimate return on 5G investments. However, between 2020 and 2025, depending on location and infrastructure, many mobile operators will be forced to make the necessary 5G investments to keep up with bandwidth demand.
5G and IoT
Though the promise of instant gratification when it comes to downloading films and virtual reality gaming is attractive, there are far more significant implications of 5G technology.
IoT is all about connectivity. The number of devices popping up that are connected to each other or rely on sensor information for operability is soaring. The effectiveness of these devices depends on their ability to access and transmit information in real-time. In one of the most banal examples, if you tell your home assistant to turn on the lights in your living room, chances are you want this to happen in relatively real-time. The busier the network, the more lag time you experience from command to action performed.
Quick and reliable responsiveness and the swift transfer of information is key to IoT applications in sectors like logistics because successful business operations rely on keeping the extensive amount of constantly in flux data data up-to-date.
The high speed promised by 5G will also boost the effectiveness of predictive maintenance, remote repair powered by augmented and virtual reality applications, as well as education and training programs also simplified by AR and VR applications.
And this is because 5G will facilitate massive Machine Type Communications (MTC), making it possible to support “one million devices in a single square kilometer”.
IoT applications do not require a large amount of bandwidth because they are not in a constant state of data transmission. Back to that easy example of your home lights: your home assistant is activated when you give it a command. It is not in a constant state of turning lights on and off. Unless you are testing out some kind of disco lighting app! The same goes for predictive maintenance applications. Machines are scheduled to transmit sensor information at specific intervals. Not continuously. Remote repairs or training sessions that rely on augmented reality applications or virtual reality goggles are also not constantly relaying data. However, as more and more of these devices crowd the market, even their low demand will amount to a saturation of available bandwidth. That’s why those millimeter waves are so important!
5G’s Impact on Field Services
At this point, it is probably obvious why this matters so much to field services. Field service technicians are dependent on smooth communications with customers, the back office, the logistics center, each other in order to perform effective repairs and maintenance.
However, communication is not only practical. Over the next five years, revenue will be generated by ecosystems of service partners and valuable smart data generated by effective IoT platforms. Why? Because 5G connectivity will contribute substantially to the collection and analysis of large amounts of data. This in turn will refine services like predictive maintenance and monitoring. At the same time, the aforementioned use of AR and VR tools to connect service partners and technicians will increase the rate of first-time-fixes, improve the availability of and ability to share information, and even expand the reach of service offers to remote regions.
Digitalization Breakthrough with 5G
What does this mean for service providers that still rely on paper and pen? There’s no time like the present! In every sense of the phrase. First of all, now is a great time for companies hesitating to invest in digital solutions to take the plunge.
Once 5G becomes a standard, companies that already have digitized processes in place will be well-positioned to ride the wave into the next generation of innovative tools and applications.
And secondly, the present is simply no longer about paper and pen. Digitizing business solutions is essential for maintaining a competitive edge in today’s digital economy. It is not only customers who expect real-time responses and communications, it is also the burgeoning development of ecosystems that rely on digitalization to do business. Service providers not willing to get on board risk appearing obsolete to increasingly demanding and tech-savvy customer and shutting themselves out of potentially lucrative ecosystems. For more information on staying ahead of the digital transformation, read our white paper: