#NextWave: 5G Is Coming. (Some Claim It’s Already Here.) Are You Ready?

Don’t make any changes to your 4G mobility strategy before hearing what Qualcomm Technologies’ Jeff Lorbeck had to say at TED.

Qualcomm`s Jeff Lorbeck talks about the role of 5G in Industry 4.0 in a TED workshop
by Jeff Stark
September 11, 2019

Some of you may have read the headline and panicked a bit.

If you’re a warehouse operator just now migrating from 3G to 4G mobile devices, the idea that 5G is already “here” may trigger a lot of questions. Are you behind the mobile curve? Would it make more sense to just skip a generation and migrate straight from a 3G to a 5G mobility solution?

And those of you in manufacturing, transportation and logistics, government and other industrial sectors who have been investing heavily in 4G rugged tablets and smartphones over the last couple of years may be wondering if those mobile technologies are really as “future-ready” as device manufacturers claim. Will they work on 5G networks? And if (technically-speaking) they do, will you be able to enjoy the increased speed and security benefits promised by 5G technology on your 4G devices?

These are all very valid questions and concerns.

But, before you make any drastic changes to your current mobility solution architecture, I urge you to listen to what Qualcomm Technologies Inc. senior vice president and general manager for IoT Jeff Lorbeck had to say about the state of 5G in his recent presentation at a Zebra workshop hosted at the TED World Theater in New York:

Clearly, upgrading to a 5G mobility solution is going to be mission critical – at some point. Companies, including yours, are probably connecting more and more devices every day to mobilize your workforce. And those devices are creating unprecedented volumes of data. That means that, with time, you are going to need more computing power to process this data in real time at the edge. 5G wireless networks will help to mitigate latency challenges as the data burden grows. 5G technologies will also make it easier to run Industry 4.0 applications at the edge, including artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms and computer vision. It is going to be the “unifying fabric” for intelligent edge solutions, as Jeff explained.

But when will 5G become mission critical for your organization? That’s not a question that can be answered on a broad scale. However, it’s safe to say that we haven’t quite reached the “crossover” point from 4G to 5G yet on a mass market scale.

When Will 5G Be Ready to Support Your Business?

5G is still in its infancy when you compare its reach to today’s 4G network coverage and solution ecosystems. In fact, from a consumer perspective, early 5G device adopters may find themselves still relying on 4G network connections to complete calls or transmit data, similar to how your devices reverted to 3G from time to time as 4G networks were being built out. Carriers aren’t suddenly going to flip a switch to turn off 4G and turn on 5G, which means your organization’s 4G devices aren’t suddenly going to stop working and your 4G infrastructure isn’t going to become obsolete overnight.

The truth is that it has taken over twenty years to get to where we are today with 5G.

As you can see from this timeline, Qualcomm started its 5G foundational research in the 1990s, yet the first 5G commercial network in the world just went online a few months ago. And mobile industry authority GSMA doesn’t expect commercial 5G networks to be widely deployed until the post-2020 period, which is what they consider the 5G era. Getting the private, industrial 5G networks that Jeff mentioned online could take even more time depending on your resources. Given that we are well into the Industry 4.0 era, it is fair to say that your business will probably rely on both 4G and backwards-compatible 5G technologies to implement intelligent edge solutions.

So, going back to the question I posed above: no, it is not a mistake to go all-in on 4G solutions knowing that 5G is right around the corner (or, in a way, already here). Your ongoing investment in 4G technologies is actually mission critical, if you ask me. 4G technologies enable you to take advantage of the rich data available within your value chain in a secure and reliable manner right now. They also provide the connectivity you need to begin implementing AI, IoT and automation technologies right now so that you don’t have to wait for 5G to become an “intelligent enterprise”.


Editor's Note: Did you know that 70 percent of respondents to Zebra's latest Field Ops Vision Study say 4G/5G is one of the top factors driving field operations investments? Download the study to learn more.


Still debating whether or not it’s best to wait for 5G instead of spending more money on 4G technologies? Let’s talk about the pros and cons for your organization as the way forward – and the pace of innovation – is not going to be the same for everyone. Leave a comment below or contact us here.

Jeff Stark
Jeff Stark serves as the Director of the Strategic Partner Team within the Design, Management, Operations group of Zebra Technologies. In this role, Mr. Stark is responsible for managing the operational strategic partner ecosystem, which includes chipsets, operating systems (OS), enterprise mobility management (EMM), carriers, cloud and new emerging technology partners. In his Design, Management and Operations role, he is responsible for overlaying the pan Zebra technology roadmap with Zebra's operational partners. He also drives platforming and innovation.
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