The Future of 5G: where do we go from here?

Brenden Rawle
- Leadership - Apr 05, 2019

In an increasingly digitalised world, where our daily lives have become ever more entwined with data, the pace at which we can transmit and receive information has become something of an obsession.

The constant pursuit of faster transmission speeds has transformed the expectations of consumers, and the emphasis that we, as a society, have placed on speed, has completely changed the way businesses assess and market their technological capabilities.

This ‘need for speed’ has permeated every aspect of our day-to-day existence. We demand faster ways of accessing our favourite news sources, using products and services, and even how we manage our personal finances and healthcare. The past 20 years has witnessed a data speed revolution. So, where do we go from here?

The arrival of 5G

In the dynamic world of data transmission, one of the most promising avenues for development is the arrival of 5G. These network speeds could be in the region of 20x faster than existing 4G networks depending on various factors, with latency cut to around 1 millisecond. The Consumer Technology Association notes that, at that speed, you could download a two-hour movie in just 3.6 seconds (as opposed to 6 minutes on 4G or 26 hours on 3G).

Faster, lower-latency 5G network infrastructures will also provide a huge boost to industries that are inherently dependent on fast data transmission. The Internet of Things (IoT), AI, connected vehicles, smart transportation, online gaming and VR/AR sectors, are some of the more obvious areas that stand to benefit from this innovation, whilst larger scale projects like ‘smart city’ development also have huge potential.

The mobile industry, which has long been ahead in wireless technology adoption, is also set to benefit from 5G’s arrival, as network service providers transition onto the much faster wireless data service. Mobile connected device companies, such as Vodafone, EE and O2 – who will be providing much of the 5G infrastructure – will now have to connect with new business partners across wider industries, in order to attain the full benefits of the technology. For example, a network service provider may not currently have much need to have a relationship with an automotive company, but this may change as connected vehicles play a more prominent role in the automotive industry.

The challenges ahead

Of course, there are a number of technological challenges that the sector must address before these innovations can become a reality. One of the more pressing issues is how to tackle geographic limitation. With trends in cloud, digital collaboration, mobility and the IoT, the digital edge can be anywhere, at any time. Unfortunately, the 5G network doesn’t achieve this automatically.

Whilst 5G’s millimeter wave platform offers faster speeds, it cannot cover large physical areas, and is blocked by buildings, people, and even foliage. A solution to this is network densification, which increases the number of 5G cells to deliver greater traffic capacity per square meter. By increasing the number of network nodes in a geographic location, you can allow for the shorter distance between a 5G base and terminal, needed for higher data rates and lower latency. Bringing data, content and collaboration apps out to the digital edge in this way, decreases latency and therefore improves the user experience.

To achieve the required infrastructure modifications for 5G, telecommunications carriers and mobile operators must be ready to make significant capital investments to update their current communication infrastructures. In order to make end-to-end 5G communications work as effectively as possible, they will need to leverage geographically distributed colocation and interconnection providers who can deliver global coverage that matches their needs, as well as provide access to the partner and customer ecosystems required for digital business. Indeed, our new LD7 international business exchange site in Slough, launched last year in November, is indicative of the type of investment that’s needed to ensure businesses have the operational facilities necessary to manage their digital transformations.  

The rollout of 5G will not be a one-hit wonder. Once the network is in place and ready to be used, businesses will need to rearchitect to make best-use of it. The data centre industry is preparing to support this, readying for the full launch of 5G, as well as all the inventions and applications that will arrive with it. The new network is on the cusp of revolutionising the very fabric of the sector, and is likely to have implications far beyond predictions. At Equinix, we are already working on this transition, and are looking forward to helping businesses manage next steps towards a 5G world.

Brenden Rawle is Director of Interconnection, EMEA, at interconnection and data centre company Equinix.

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