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4 enterprise WAN challenges that 5G service could resolve

With 5G, organizations could ease or resolve common WAN challenges around deployment, business expansion, monthly pricing models and adoption of new technologies.

Telecom providers and pundits alike have touted the global benefits and promise of fifth-generation wireless, or 5G. However, the next generation of cellular technology means more than new cellphone capabilities.

5G service can offer various resolutions to common enterprise WAN challenges. In addition, 5G can enable enterprise networks to more easily adapt to technological changes and advancements, including cloud environments and IoT, which require more advanced capabilities. This makes 5G "a whole new ballgame" for enterprise WANs, according to Johna Till Johnson, CEO and founder of Nemertes Research Group Inc., based in Mokena, Ill.

Johnson delved into the nitty-gritty of 5G services in a recent webinar, discussing various 5G basics, 5G's touted panaceas to WAN challenges and an early estimation for a 5G pricing model.

"The combination of all these capabilities plus the emerging 5G pricing plans is what makes 5G so interesting from a WAN perspective," Johnson said.

The WAN challenges and 5G service resolutions

With an MPLS core and standard configurations, legacy WAN architecture is limited compared to the capabilities that current businesses and technologies require. Yet, 5G services can address four prevalent WAN challenges organizations face.

5G capabilities
The world of 5G offers benefits for enterprise WANs and software-defined WANs as well.

Fixed costs. Organizations pay fixed costs for WAN services, regardless of whether the organization uses all available offerings. Yet, 5G services will offer hybrid pricing, according to Johnson, so organizations can bundle 5G into their existing WAN architectures and prioritize which network traffic has guaranteed throughput. This means background activity -- such as data backups -- may not interfere with business-critical traffic.

An estimated monthly base price for 5G service is around $600, Johnson said. These 5G prices guarantee an amount of data and throughput agreed upon by an organization and its carrier. Yet, unlike legacy WAN architecture, a network with 5G service can transport additional traffic at a lower data rate.

"The idea is that you have a base monthly price, and I threw in the number $600," Johnson said. "We've talked to the carriers; we're familiar with their pricing plans -- at least in the U.S. That is a reasonable number to assume depending on your bandwidth."

Turnup times. A common WAN challenge is long turnup -- or installation -- times. If an organization wanted to install WAN services over MPLS or Carrier Ethernet, the turnup process could take anywhere from hours to days. However, turnup times would decrease significantly with 5G services, Johnson said. The process could be nearly instantaneous.

The combination of all these capabilities plus the emerging 5G pricing plans is what makes 5G so interesting from a WAN perspective.
Johna Till JohnsonCEO and founder, Nemertes Research Group Inc.

"If 5G is available where you are, you plug in and turn on," Johnson said. "You're not waiting days; you're not waiting hours. You're waiting maybe minutes."

Performance. Legacy WAN performance over MPLS is consistent and reliable, which may make organizations wary to move from MPLS to a 5G service. However, Johnson said 5G services can provide the same or better performance, in addition to new capabilities, such as multiple input, multiple output -- or MIMO -- and carrier aggregation.

"You should get at least 99% reliability and, hopefully, better than that because of the inherent capabilities," Johnson said.

Topography. The fixed topography of legacy WANs may not mesh well with new technologies and capabilities, such as cloud environments and IoT infrastructure, that organizations have begun to embrace. Legacy WAN topography also doesn't provide flexibility for new branch office deployments, Johnson said.

"The fixed topography of yesterday's WAN is not actually a great fit for the dynamic and agile topography of tomorrow's WAN," Johnson said. "That's where 5G comes in."

With 5G service, organizations can connect to anywhere from anywhere, whether the connections start from data centers or cloud environments. This can benefit remote or branch office deployments and can enable seamless connectivity between endpoints.

5G ubiquity by mid-2020s

In the webinar, Johnson also discussed several 5G use cases for enterprise WANs -- including failover and backup for improved or consistent performance -- as well as a standard 5G timeline. Johnson said the U.S. won't see widespread 5G deployment until 2022, while Asia may see widespread deployments by 2021. The service likely won't be widespread in Europe until 2024.

By 2025, Johnson said 5G and its unique capabilities will be as ubiquitous as 4G in the mid- and late-2010s.

"5G is not just one flavor of wireless," Johnson said. "It's not just one platform or one technique. The new spectrums … layer on top of that a set of techniques that makes it uniquely useful and applicable to a new set of use cases."

This was last published in November 2019

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