4K movies. Seamless VR. Autonomous vehicles. They’re all in our future thanks to 5G wireless technology. Given the novelty of these innovations, it’s no surprise that searches for “5G” have more than doubled in the last year.

But all the excitement isn’t just about the technological advances the next generation of cellular networks will lead to; it’s also at the center of the battle for technological supremacy, as exhibited by the Huawei ban, the tariffs on Chinese imports, and the resulting U.S.-China trade tensions. The reasoning behind the tariffs imposed on Chinese imports and the ban on Huawei equipment particularly is complex. Even so, one can’t ignore that Huawei is one of the largest suppliers in the 5G market, making the bans an effort to curtail its reach.

What is 5G wireless technology?

5G is the next-generation cellular technology following 4G. While previous iterations were improvements in the bandwidth of their predecessors, 5G goes further. In fact, 5G is the first shift away from consumer devices, like smartphones, and toward an ample group of devices, like VR headsets and autonomous vehicles, with different requirements.

Though some argue that the race for 5G is primarily about political and commercial competition, it has already been rolled out in select areas and will have implications for your business.

For operations and field service specifically, there are 5G use cases expected to have massive impact on IoT, AR/VR, and maintenance activities. According to a GetApp survey, 34% of field service businesses have taken steps to prepare for 5G—have you?

4G vs. 5G technology

Over the years we’ve seen several improvements over cellular network capabilities. The pace of change has been fairly incremental, starting with voice, then SMS, internet, and video. So what’s all the hype about?

2G 3G 4G 5G
1995 2004 2011 2018
Voice/SMS Internet Mobile broadband Video IoT, Industrial Automation, AR/VRT
Max speed
0.3Mbps 7.2Mbps 150Mbps 1-10Gbps

While it may have taken several minutes to download with 4G, it will take only seconds with 5G. But 5G will differentiate itself from 4G in more ways that just download speeds. Its enhanced capabilities can be represented by three criteria:

Throughput and capacity: This criterion refers to the download and upload speed, which is expected to be up to 100 times faster than current speeds. Fast download speeds will enable 3D and 4K video capabilities.

Connectivity: For 5G, the target is to add support of up to 1 million low-power nodes per square kilometer. These improvements to connectivity enable massive IoT, which includes not only consumer devices, but also equipment on a larger scale—vehicles, commercial equipment, and anything with a sensor.

Latency: This criterion refers to the time it takes to receive a response to information sent. End-to-end cellular network latency will decrease to 5 ms or less, from around 150 ms on average. This capability will allow for near instant responses to data inputs, a key feature of successful autonomous navigation and industrial automation where responsiveness is key.

A graph showing the 3 pillars of 5G: Low Latency, Enhanced Mobile Broadband, and Massive IoTGartner’s Three Technology Pillars of 5G graphic illustrates the various use cases for 5G according to their respective technology requirements (full report available to clients)

5G use cases

The theory behind what 5G wireless technology is capable of is interesting, but are the applications most relevant to your business’ operations?

  • Digital twins, virtual duplicates of physical assets, with real-time historical data to support predictive maintenance.
  • Augmented remote services assistance.
  • Remote repairs enabled by AR/VR.
  • Support real-time collaboration through AR/VR and high-definition video technology.

Reality check

The magnitude of the shift from 4G to 5G is hard to understate. But because this change is significant, it will also take longer to be widely available.

Initially, most operators will integrate 5G networks with 4G networks, yielding an enhanced 4G or Proto 5G network that has not reached the full potential of full 5G. While 5G has already been deployed in some concentrated areas, this iteration offers faster speeds—which enable 4K and 8K video—but not much else.

Reducing latency and improving connectivity will rely on a higher frequency radio spectrum, which will require additional infrastructure investments in small cells distributed throughout cities and inside buildings. These small cells will be less costly than 4G towers, but will need 400 times more towers to get the coverage we need.

5G also needs large swaths of spectrum—a range of radio frequencies—which is mostly government regulated. Companies are spending billions to acquire rights to high and low frequencies and bidding on spectrum bands auctioned off by the FCC. All this takes time and money.

Another roadblock? The U.S. government’s ban of Huawei’s 5G equipment will likely further delay deployment in the U.S., as local telecommunication companies will have to find alternate suppliers.


5G might be a few years out, but there are steps your business can take now to position itself to be ready to reap the benefits of the incremental network improvements 5G when it is fully rolled out.

  • Work with your CSP to understand their 5G rollout plans and expected costs
  • Define use cases and outline relevant performance requirements for throughput, latency, and scale. Proto 5G may serve your needs for some of these.
  • Develop a migration strategy that utilizes current technology like LTE Advanced Pro or NarrowBand IoT at first.

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