Broadband connectivity is definitely top-of-mind for enterprise IT administrators and directors across the country. And one topic that’s getting a lot attention in the broadband world right now is 5G. While discussions about 5G and its role in business aren’t new, the buzz is growing as more and more articles and reports are released in anticipation of the official launch of 5G.

Even though 3G is still used by millions of Americans, and 4G LTE provides the network speeds and coverage necessary to support today’s digital needs, CIOs and IT administrators are now grappling with a number of questions about 5G’s potential impact on their businesses, both on property and off.

What does 5G bring and how will it impact your business? Let’s break it down.


A Brief History of Wireless Networks

The “G” stands for “generation,” and the number refers to which generation: 5G is the fifth generation of wireless networks. A PC Magazine video helps explain the different generations in terms of what each gave us:

  • 1G: Sound (voice)
  • 2G: Text
  • 3G: Mobile web
  • 4G LTE: 10x faster speed

As PC Magazine puts it, the next generation, 5G, will give us “crazy high speeds” with around “1 millisecond of lag time.”

But what does that mean for the generations we still hear about today, such as 3G and 4G?


3G: Being Decommissioned

Whether you’re a consumer or you’re working on a plan to provide Internet access for your remote employees, you won’t hear much about 3G anymore. But it’s not gone just yet.

Most network shutdowns for 3G are not slated until 2021 or 2022 as the carriers work to phase customers out of 3G and into newer networks. Beginning next year, carriers will no longer allow new 3G activations on their networks. For example, Verizon Wireless posted an announcement on the 3G network activation retirement, encouraging customers to move to 4G by the end of 2019.

What does this mean for your enterprise?

If you have employees who access the Internet through Wi-Fi hotspots, those devices will need to be updated to 4G LTE. There’s still time, but if you provide 3G devices, you need to act quickly to replace and upgrade before they become expensive paperweights.


4G: Still the Standard

4G, or the fourth generation of cellular network technology, brought us faster speeds through different phases, not in just one leap:

  • 2016: 4G LTE
  • 2017-18: 4G LTE Advanced
  • 2019-20: Gigabit LTE

Not everyone has heard about Gigabit LTE, but it’s still the precursor to 5G in terms of availability and speed. Here’s how CNet defines Gigabit LTE:

Gigabit LTE is an advanced form of LTE, the 4G wireless technology that the cellular carriers use to connect mobile devices…Gigabit LTE is named so because the connection speed peaks at 1 gigabit per second, or the same speed that Google Fiber offers its landline-based internet connection. In other words, really, really fast.

Needless to say, even before 5G gets here, 4G will continue to advance and perform at speeds previously unheard of. So while some businesses might be concerned that it’s time to move away from 4G, it’s not going away anytime soon.


5G: On the Horizon

As you’ve no doubt seen from the commercials, the carriers are in a race to become the leading provider of 5G, and actual delivery timeframes are expected in the near future:

  • 2018-19: Fixed 5G
  • 2019-21: Mobile 5G

By 2025, North America is estimated to be at nearly 50% adoption of 5G, according to a recent report by GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, and also hosts the Mobile World Congress annually. Canada is expected to launch 5G in 2020 as well.

How does 5G differ from 4G? Digital Trends provides a helpful explanation:

The higher speeds that really set 5G apart from any of the 4G LTE flavors require mmWave (millimeter wave) high-frequency bands…While 4G LTE relies upon relatively few large masts that are built miles apart, 5G will require lots of small cells much closer together. These mini 5G base stations may be placed on top of street lights or on the sides of buildings every few hundred feet in urban areas. Logistically building a network like this out is going to be a challenge, it’s going to be expensive, and it’s going to take time.

While 5G is expected to be even faster than 4G LTE, it requires much more infrastructure in the form of small towers to provide cellular service. These 5G towers will take time to build and will initially take place in dense, urban areas. That means if your organization operates mostly in urban areas, you may experience 5G network speeds sooner. If you’re in a more rural area, you may be waiting a few more years.

In fact, the recent State K-12 Broadband Leadership 2019: Driving Connectivity, Access and Student Success report shows that “only 69 percent of of citizens in rural areas have access to both broadband (25 Mbps/3 Mbps) and mobile services (LTE at speeds of 5 Mbps/1 Mbps) compared to 98 percent in urban areas.” There are plans to help increase rural broadband access. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is hoping to auction off 2.5 GHz airwaves to help rural communities receive 5G speeds too.

As 5G takes shape, it may cost more than existing 4G service, especially since it will be “the latest and greatest” advancement. This is an important consideration as enterprises plan their digital transformations and look at where they can reduce other costs and make the smartest technology investments.