From David Icke inspired conspiracies to concerns from MPs about its implementation in relation to health concerns, the roll out of 5G in the UK has no doubt been contentious – but it is a potential game-changer for businesses.
To assess the impact it will have, Business Leader spoke to some of the country’s leading experts on the matter to find out how it can be transformational and why the UK is so far behind the rest of the world.
What is it? And what is it replacing?
5G is the replacement for its predecessor – 4G – which was introduced in the UK in 2012. This revolutionised modern communication with faster connections, and the ability to use internet in more places and at higher speeds.
The business world’s connectivity has made quantum leaps with each generation, as Kate Beaumont, Director Innovation, Technology & Services for Samsung UK – Mobile Division explains: “5G is redefining fast. With blazing speeds that are 10 times quicker than 4G, lower lag times, and much faster connections, there are a whole host of benefits for businesses.
“2G and 3G took us beyond just making calls, enabling us to send texts and even testing a little bit of the web on the move. Then 4G came along and altered the way we consume content on the go in seismic ways, as well as creating new businesses like Uber and Snapchat. All of which laid the foundation for the present leap into 5G.”
But what will 5G change for businesses and different sectors?
Russ Shaw from Global Tech Advocates comments: “The benefits of a 5G network extend beyond speed alone, offering increased capacity and ultra-low latency – delivering services in real-time, regardless of location. The jump between 3G to 4G was significant – it demonstrated the power of data and opened doors to a whole new world of technological opportunities. But the jump between 4G to 5G is generational – offering businesses improved connectivity at faster speeds, and the potential to transmit data with much less latency than 4G ever could.
“Such change will provide a platform for various industries to innovate, including healthcare and automotive. For example, more advanced networks are the foundation for technologies enabling surgeons to perform remote surgeries and for driverless cars to enter the mainstream.”
It is these new innovations and introductions to market that will change industries. However, this will be done through an increased amount of smart devices and the latest developments from the Industrial Revolution 4.0 – the rapid adoption of new tech – which 5G will accelerate.
John Vickery, Principal Technology Partner at BT Enterprise comments: “Simply said, 5G is widely believed to be smarter, faster and more efficient than 4G. It promises mobile data speeds that far outstrip the fastest home broadband network currently available to consumers. 5G also has a much lower latency, meaning consumers and businesses can download and upload files quickly and easily, without worrying about network delays or issues. For the business world, which is moving at a rapid pace with technology adoption, we need to provide our customers with 5G networking, ensuring they can benefit from emerging innovations, and ultimately transform their business.”
And many of the UK’s major mobile service providers are preparing for 5G to change the business landscape. A spokesperson from Three said: “5G isn’t just another mobile upgrade; it’s a massive step forward in combining many advanced network and computing technologies, to create the platform on which the world’s digital economy will run. It will generate new jobs, products and services that will power future economies and societies.
“We will see industries like manufacturing, agriculture, transport and healthcare, significantly evolve to be far more accurate and efficient. As 5G becomes more and more readily available, the opportunities it brings to a wide range of services will become even more exciting.
“In the shorter term though, it will be a key enabler for a range of technical developments and capabilities – something businesses will particularly notice, is the ability for colleagues to work more remotely with more efficiency.”
How will 5G change business?
In this era, virtually every business is a digital business, which means 5G will arguably impact every facet of business life – from the way employees operate and communicate, to the way businesses cater to its own customers, and to the way entrepreneurs innovate.
Vickery comments: “With a growing global workforce, a shift in media consumption and an increase in remote working, access to mobile and virtual technologies has become a necessity for many businesses. “The biggest enabler of a mobile-first ecosystem will no doubt be 5G. Flexibility for employees to work anywhere, anytime is made possible with a mobile-first approach. For businesses, this will mean streaming high-resolution video, audio and images with practically no latency.
“5G also has the potential to bring improved safety and productivity to workers in construction, manufacturing, transport and logistics. It can also deliver improved patient experiences and outcomes by moving diagnostic and clinical expertise closer to the patient. For the first time, 5G will enable high quality video, audio and diagnostic services to run in real-time to link field practitioners with remote expertise.”
Has the coronavirus outbreak shown why it is needed?
With businesses across the world reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of millions of people are now being forced to work from their homes during lockdown. With devices being spread across a wider area – and more internet being used for calls, video conferencing, etc – it has shown the need for 5G to make future work faster and more reliable.
Shaw comments: “COVID-19 has ushered in an era of remote working, highlighting the importance of connectivity to our personal and professional lives. Increased usage has certainly put pressure on service providers to upgrade networks and monitor demands on the country’s bandwidth – perhaps the situation could have been be different with a nationwide 5G network.”
What challenges does it face?
Away from the current pandemic, clearly there is a strong business case for wider implementation of 5G across the country, to improve companies in every sector.
However, 5Gs widespread acceptance and integration into the business community has several challenges to overcome.
Dr Paul Carter, CEO Global Wireless Solutions, summarises: “Investment, government involvement, and public relations are crucial if we are to see the widescale adoption of 5G across the UK.
“Perhaps these are viewed as challenges, but hopefully they can be turned into opportunities to ensure that 5G can be deployed across the UK so businesses and consumers can take full advantage of the benefits available from this new generation of wireless technology.
“Operators are obviously investing in spectrum and infrastructure; however, will availability of spectrum match the market needs? Do businesses understand the full potential of 5G and are they starting to invest in updated or new products and services to take advantage of the power of 5G? What more could the government do to spur investment and development of 5G networks and applications?
“Lastly, with so much misinformation swirling around 5G, the public at large needs help in separating fact from fiction and in understanding what 5G will bring to them and all within a safe environment. Whether it’s the operators, the government, consumer-facing experts, or all of the above, consumers need to hear more realistic messaging about 5G.”
With investment and the subsequent infrastructure in place, cities across the UK will be able to benefit from al that 5G can offer businesses.
However, connectivity within rural business areas are currently being affected by poor connectivity. Can 5G change this?
RootMetrics’ Chief Commercial Officer, Kevin Hasley, comments: “One challenge will be extending beyond urban areas into rural environments. 5G infrastructure involves a requirement for denser deployment of smaller equipment, which makes it more suited to urban, more populous areas from an ROI standpoint.
“However, that does not mean that the rollout of 5G in Britain’s cities and towns will not have a positive impact on rural connectivity. Because 5G will ease capacity constraints on 4G networks in urban and suburban areas, this will make it easier to expand 4G more widely in rural areas.
“It’s unlikely that initial phases of a 5G rollout will make a dramatic impact on rural broadband. This has been shown in several countries, including our recent testing in South Korea. The excitement around 5G is justified, but 4G networks will be crucial to help expand coverage across rural areas.
“As we move forward and 5G becomes the norm, operators will have the ability to re-farm the existing spectrum for new uses. In this type of ‘trickle-down’ scenario, 5G could ultimately help rural areas – not necessarily by expanding 5G service itself but by allowing the growth of additional 4G resources.”
And much like the wider business community – whether urban or rural – the rapid development of industry has created a skills gap. This has affected 5Gs current state in the UK and could threaten its future implementation.
Beaumont comments: “The adoption of 5G and deployment has been pushed at a greater speed than any recent network infrastructure, fuelled by international and national competition. This competition creates a huge need for skilled engineers and support teams to deploy network infrastructure. Plugging this skills gap is essential to secure the continued growth of 5G and future network technologies.”
Are there any security risks?
Perhaps the largest challenging factor immediately facing 5G in the UK is its supposed security concerns, which has hit the headlines in recent months.
In January, Chinese tech giant Huawei was selected by the UK government to be used in its future 5G networks.
US President Donald Trump’s government warned the UK against using Huawei’s 5G mobile networks and said the current plans are ‘nothing short of madness’.
But is Huawei really a threat to national security? Is their involvement crucial to it being swiftly and correctly implemented across the UK?
Shaw comments: “While security concerns over Huawei’s technology will likely linger, the government’s decision to allow the Chinese company partial access to the UK 5G network may well be critical to its successful rollout. The security concerns of the public and enterprise must always remain central with regard to advanced technologies, but the company’s involvement should catalyse implementation.
“We know that China is a leader in 5G and having Huawei contribute to ‘non-core’ elements of the network could well prove crucial to our timely deployment, which is essential for Britain’s broader business community – particularly in the current context. The partial access granted should ensure that, at the very least, collaboration with Huawei is not disruptive to the rollout, while ensuring that we benefit from its technical expertise.
“Excluding a company like Huawei from the UK’s digital future is to fundamentally remove it from the conversation on 5G in this country. This could cause profound harm to UK digital infrastructure, which should not ignore expertise from the world-leading Chinese tech sector.”
Will we see more innovations as a result of 5G?
With the security question set to rumble on until the government creates a clearer roadmap on its future implementation and impact on the economy, businesses will be focusing on what opportunities it could provide in the future after the current crisis.
Federation for Small Business, National Chairman, Mike Cherry, comments: “The new 5G network will have a tremendous effect on the economy and could potentially revolutionise the way we do business.”
Dr Carter believes innovators and disruptors will revel in all that 5G will have to offer.
He said: “For innovators, 5G is a blank canvas, a new playing field. Activities, applications, equipment, products, and services that exist today are built, manufactured, designed, or offered around today’s network, in terms of speed, latency, capacity, reliability and coverage.
“5G promises to change all of that. Significant improvements in all of those network areas will foster innovation, as commercial and public enterprises will be able to do or provide something that wasn’t possible before.
“Today, the industry is discussing and even designing and preparing for innovative concepts that we feel confident can be rolled out on 5G networks at some point – autonomous cars, connected infrastructure and communities, AR and VR applications, remote robotic applications, IoT, and more. However, certainly we are only just scratching the surface of possibilities and opportunities. To put it another way; ‘we won’t know until we get there’.”