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Evaluating the benefits of 5G for businesses

With its high speeds, low latency and other advantages, 5G is delivering value in the enterprise. Now, business leaders view the new wireless technology as key to future success.

Fueled by a combination of myth, concern and futuristic potential, 5G is making waves across society. Now, more executives are starting to see 5G as good for businesses.

Mike Anderson, CIO for Netskope, a software company, plans to use 5G to deliver a new level of resiliency and reliability as his company continues with remote work and revisits its business continuity plans.

"When we look at the new work-from-anywhere model with a lot of people working from home, you always have the risk of someone losing their connectivity," Anderson said. "So to have 5G for backup capability would be great, and in some cases 5G can even be primary."

He also sees 5G connectivity, with its exponentially greater speed and capacity than its predecessor, as a critical supplement to the SD-WAN connectivity being implemented in Netskope's physical offices, especially the facility housing its security operations center.

Anderson is not alone in this push to harness the benefits of 5G for businesses.

The future is 5G

Organizations of all kinds are increasingly looking to use 5G. They're making investments in projects that utilize the fifth generation of broadband cellular network, and a growing number of executives view it as critical to future success.

More than 90% of surveyed enterprise leaders regard advanced wireless technologies -- namely 5G and Wi-Fi 6 -- as either "very important" or "critically important" to their business's success, according to Deloitte's 2020 Study of Advanced Wireless Adoption.

Additionally, the study found that 38% of responding executives considered 5G and Wi-Fi 6 as critically important at the time of the survey, but 52% said those technologies will be critically important within the next three years.

The survey also found that 57% of responding executives are already in the process of adopting 5G or Wi-Fi 6, and another 37% plan to adopt either or both in the next year.

Bulleted list of the features and benefits that 5G brings to businesses
The many features and benefits of 5G for businesses

CIOs, other enterprise executives, technology analysts and management consultants all have said that they expect 5G will affect business. But they also acknowledge that its effect will vary significantly by industry and use case. The task now is for organizational leaders to identify those areas where 5G is worth the required investments and to innovate around opportunities where 5G can be a transformational benefit.

"You need to think about the impact and how to harness the new capabilities of speed and low latency of 5G," said Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, an industry trade organization composed of telecommunications providers and manufacturers. "If you don't start thinking about 5G and how it could affect or help your business, you're going to have a competitor who will."

5G advantages

Many of the benefits of 5G for business stem from its low latency and high capacity, with leading-edge executives now trying to harness that combination of speed and volume. 5G's potential also comes from its reliability and its ability to create efficiencies, fuel innovations and bring new products and services to market.

Healthcare entities are looking at how they can use 5G to support more advanced in-home patient monitoring. Retailers are thinking about how 5G will affect their ability to enhance the shopper experience and enable true customization. The education community is starting to use 5G to expand both the range and reach of its content.

The effect of 5G on business is already being seen in some industries, said Arun Santhanam, vice president and market segment leader of telecom and media for Capgemini North America. As an example, he pointed to the financial services industry, where some firms are calculating how 5G's ability to shave milliseconds off high-speed transactions can boost profits.

But 5G's effect on business goes beyond incremental improvements in speed and even beyond profits.

Experts see 5G already inspiring enterprise leaders to develop entirely new products and services that are only possible because of the low latency, high capacity, security and reliability that this technology brings.

"There are going to be use cases and new products that none of us can think of now, and in those cases, we're going to see disruption," Santhanam said.

Investments required

The telecommunications industry has made -- and is continuing to make -- large investments in 5G buildouts. That's critical for businesses in nearly all other industries. Analysts expect most organizations will use public 5G networks rather than build their own private ones.

Yet, enterprise executives looking to capitalize on 5G will have investments to make if they want their business to benefit from 5G.

To start, CIOs and their C-suite colleagues need to consider use cases where 4G isn't sufficient. Then they'll have to invest in the connected ecosystem that truly makes use of 5G's advanced capacity and speed, said Leo Gergs, an analyst with ABI Research's 5G markets research service.

"There's a lot that 4G can do already and you won't need 5G for, so it's really important for businesses to identify where 5G can add benefits to existing connectivity," Gergs said. "It's about identifying how 5G's high reliability and availability and low latency makes a tangible difference."

For Anderson, 5G delivers the capability to support his company's mission-critical and always-available security operations as well as other business functions.

"Even in the case of some event, the expectation is I could have business as usual in the office if I have 5G," Anderson said.

Pearson said he's advising CIOs -- whether they're at a small company or a large one -- to have someone on staff "who is fluent in 5G, who understands it for what it can do internally for their company and what affect it can have on the company externally."

"It's bringing in enablers who are going to transform how people think about doing business within the company as well as externally," he added.

An organization's ability to implement 5G for both incremental benefits as well as transformational opportunities relies on the organization's ability to implement other key components and make the most of other instrumental technologies -- from endpoint sensors and edge devices to cloud computing.

To many experts, 5G is an enabler that works best when it's within a greater ecosystem designed to support and advance an organization's strategic objectives.

Enterprise leaders are still building on that, though.

"We're probably only in inning two or three of a nine-inning game for what it's going to do when it reaches its full potential," Pearson said.

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