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As excitement grows for 5G cellular technology, businesses should also consider 5G limitations as they plan for 2020 and beyond. While the technology greatly extends today's cellular infrastructure, it does have drawbacks, including the following:
- To take advantage of the full suite of 5G capabilities, a 5G device is required at both ends of the connection. On the client side, a 5G handset for mobile communications or a 5G IoT device is needed. On the carrier side, 5G antennas and infrastructure are needed. Android smartphones have an advantage for 5G as a few handsets are available today. Sadly, no 5G iPhones exist now, and this may not change for some time as Apple phone designs have shifted between 5G modem vendors. Some 5G IoT devices are beginning to roll out, but many IoT vendors see 5G opening up 3G and 4G spectrum for IoT as smartphones transition to 5G. IoT could have more freedom in the lower-speed bands of 3G and 4G.
- Proximity is another weakness that businesses must consider. 5G uses millimeter wavelengths, which are smaller than 3G and 4G, and they don't travel as far. While the 5G coverage profile is smaller, the 5G signal can carry more data. To combat this limitation, carriers are planning a much larger network of antennas to provide enough coverage. But businesses hoping to use this technology will need to investigate their carriers' 5G coverage maps. Carriers are starting pilots now, but coverage is only in a few urban areas; this will expand over time as large-scale deployments begin.
- Rural and remote locations probably won't have 5G service anytime soon. While 5G applications abound in areas such as agriculture and mining, where remote access is required, carriers might not find it cost-effective to deploy 5G in some remote locations. However, a remote rollout could happen if a large customer is willing to help defray costs or an existing cabled backhaul already exists.
- Early purchases of 5G services may initially incur a price premium as carriers try to offset the significant capital investments in these new technologies. 5G will be expensive to deploy, so carriers may try to segment the market early in order to optimize their short-term revenue. Eventually, broader competitive pressures will require carriers to reduce 5G prices in order to maintain competitiveness.
- Finally, 5G will have a different security model than 3G and 4G as it will include new security capabilities. The good news for businesses is carriers will handle most of this implementation. But, for businesses building network services on top of 5G cellular networks, understanding these new security models will be critical to ensure they are building comprehensive, secure services.
While 5G limitations are evident, the long-term benefits of 5G will outweigh the disadvantages. And, on balance, 5G will introduce new opportunities for businesses to become more agile and competitive over time.