Organisations today are confronted by exponential amounts of data, in many different formats and from a variety of sources. This data growth is showing no signs of slowing, with one International Data Corporation (IDC) study estimating that the amount of data created, captured, and replicated across the world could grow from 33 Zettabytes (ZB) in 2018 to 175 ZB by 2025.

IDC says that while the enterprise will represent more than 80% of total installed bytes worldwide by 2025, healthcare is primed to grow the fastest, reflecting advancements in healthcare analytics and imaging technology, as well as the increasing amount of real-time data created in medical care.
Across the other sectors such as media, entertainment and financial services, the increasing adoption of edge computing, with opportunity for blockchain, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) are all fuelling the growth of data.

Away from the business world, consumers’ dependency on data is evident in their expectation of ‘always-on’ access to high-quality data services, regardless of device or location.

The pressure on the network infrastructure to support demand for all these bandwidth-hungry applications and services is enormous. The mobile industry is offering up the arrival of 5G as a solution to issues of speed and performance. Promising mobile data download speeds that are up to 100 times faster than 4G, the expectations of what 5G can deliver are high.

With mobile operators currently undertaking 5G testing and pilot projects, 2019 is set to be a seminal year in the mobile industry. 5G handsets are predicted to hit the market and end-users will start to experience the technology first-hand.

The Government

The UK Government says it wants to connect 15 million premises to full fibre broadband by 2025 and provide coverage across all of the UK by 2033, which it says is vital to underpin 5G coverage.

It also says it will set up “a cross-government barrier busting task force” to address specific challenges in the deployment of telecoms infrastructure, and work with local government to make sites available for the deployment of infrastructure and to deliver the levels of connectivity that local areas need.

Globally, the rivalry between operators – and even governments – in the race to roll out 5G is intense, with the United States’ National Security Council even admitting that “Whoever leads in technology and market share for 5G deployment will have a tremendous advantage towards ... commanding the heights of the information domain.”

From an investment standpoint alone, the leap from 4G to 5G is much greater than the upgrade from 3G to 4G, which involved modernising infrastructure that already existed.

For example, 5G’s shorter wavelengths mean that signals will not be able to cover long distances and will be more easily blocked by physical objects. So instead of relying on mobile phone masts, 5G necessitates the installation of 10 to 100 times more antenna locations than 4G or 3G in the form of small cell devices.
These “are critical not only for delivering the speed and capacity promised by this next generation of wireless, but also for supporting the increased number of devices that will be connected to the network in the future,” says global consulting group Accenture, which predicts that mobile operators will need to invest approximately £212 billion in building new infrastructure.

McKinsey & Company notes that while mobile operators understand the opportunities to capture value from new 5G use cases, “they are keenly aware that they’ll have to increase their infrastructure investments in this technology.”

“Operators will still have to upgrade their 4G networks to cope with growing demand...we predicted that network-related capital expenditures would have to increase 60% from 2020 through 2025, roughly doubling total cost of ownership (TCO) during that period,” McKinsey says.

Smart city opportunity

The combination of 5G and IoT is generating many smart city potential applications – everything from monitoring air quality, energy use and traffic patterns to smart parking, crowd management, and emergency response.

Some estimates say 5G will help to generate £95 billion in benefits and savings through reductions in energy usage, traffic congestion and fuel costs. While 5G will no doubt enable a range of new and transformative applications in the future, it is important to distinguish between the excitement that often comes with any new technology and its practical application.

The introduction of 5G services is likely to resemble an evolution rather than a revolution. In some instances, operators are still investing in enhancing their 4G networks, which can cater for many of the applications users are demanding today. Importantly wireless operators need to develop sound business cases that support increased revenue growth from 5G to match the lend of investment required to deliver their services.

Low spectrum is still coming to auction, which will be primarily used for increasing 4G traffic over the short term. Certainly, in the UK, current 5G trials build on infrastructure that is already in place, rather than starting from scratch, and it is likely we’ll see a hybrid rollout of ‘5G-lite’ services.

While data continues to be the main driver for 5G services, there is hope that there will be a pragmatic approach to 5G deployment. It is still early days, and it will be incremental steps forward rather than a huge 5G revolution.