5G wireless infrastructure is almost upon us, and if even half of what is being written about it is true, then we are about to enter an entirely new age of digital communications.
However, wireless and wired networks do not exist in isolation, so the flood of data flowing to and from 5G connected devices is bound to hit the enterprise in one form or another. This means you should take steps now to prevent existing congested network environments from becoming completely overwhelmed.
According to Gartner, 5G is expected to hit the mainstream in 2020 with an estimated market value of $2.86 billion. From there, it should grow by more than 50 percent a year to hit $33.72 billion in 2026. The key differentiator between this and earlier wireless advances is that 5G is not positioned to supplement or augment existing network services, but to replace them step by step. In this way, it is likely to produce entirely new services, markets and value chains even as it lowers costs and extends connectivity to a wider range of products.
On the surface, it would seem that all of this new data will force the enterprise to increase the scope of existing network infrastructure substantially, but this is only partially true. While both wired and wireless enterprise networks are due to expand for a number of reasons, the addition of 5G may actually help to lessen the burden on legacy infrastructure, not compound it. Nick Lippis, co-chairman of the Open Networking User Group, noted to The Wall Street Journal recently that 5G actually plays into hybrid and multi-cloud strategiesby providing more streamlined access to data and resources. In fact, with 5G taking on the heavy lifting of future networking, IT staff will be able to concentrate on high-level functions like orchestration and security.
Still, shrinking the wired network footprint as much as possible can only help as part of the evolution to hyperscaled data environments. A recent white paper from Chatsworth Products describes a number of ways in which new cabling solutions can support 5G, along with other developments like Power over Ethernet (PoE) and software-defined networking (SDN). For one thing, improved movable cross-members and tool-less designs can eliminate interference and enable fast repositioning, while vertical cable management solutions are starting to incorporate advanced mechanics for optimal support and improved airflow. And the latest wall-mount enclosures support heavier equipment and can be easily retrofitted over existing structures.
It also may be tempting to think that with 5G in hand the enterprise can start to shed current wireless technologies like Wi-Fi, but this would be a mistake. Alex Puregger, CEO of Fon Wireless, points out that Wi-Fi can provide a vital link between fixed and mobile networks, particularly as BYOD and other data mobility issues gather steam. A flexible, multi-tenant platform featuring centralized management and broad visibility and control will be crucial given that the Internet of Things (IoT) is likely to infiltrate the enterprise to a greater degree than the home or factory. At the same time, expect the same kinds of machine learning algorithms that are enhancing other forms of digital communications to improve performance on Wi-Fi.
It certainly is unfortunate that the enterprise must also contend with 5G along with digital transformation, hyperscale/hyperconverged infrastructure, hybrid clouds and SDN. But all these technologies are feeding upon themselves in one way or another. Rarely does an industry experience this kind of upheaval, but current legacy infrastructure is incompatible with the emerging services-driven economy in too many ways to resist change much longer.
In this light, planning for a 5G wireless future should be a relatively minor added burden when laying the groundwork for all the other monumental changes taking place in the enterprise.
Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other highi-tech industries.