Why CIOs need to question 5G and the 'need for speed'

Who doesn’t want a bit of extra speed in their life – especially when it comes to mobile data? Well, quite a few people, as it turns out.

The advent of 5G services promises much faster mobile communications, with ten times the speeds of existing 4G services (and remember what a transformation that was). According to received wisdom, everyone stands to benefit – from consumers who will be able to download an HD film in seconds, to urban planners who can use 5G to provision the services that will power the ‘smart city’ of the future.

But we need to temper our optimism with a little reality. For many, the coming of 5G is an expensive headache: from the service providers who must invest hundreds of millions in upgrading their networks before they can earn a penny in revenue from new superfast services, to the CIO who is tasked with developing a corporate 5G strategy.

5G is painted as a panacea for a range of business problems, but in reality the real-world use cases remain few and far between. Like the smart cities example, many of the promised applications for 5G are still in embryo, and the same is true for most of the corporate use cases for 5G.

This makes life very hard for the CIO, who must somehow put together a 5G action plan without truly knowing what problems they need to overcome, what new capabilities they want to provision, and how 5G will affect wider corporate strategy.

Don’t get me wrong: 5G will one day completely transform the way that companies do business. With latency slashed from 50 milliseconds to under 1 millisecond, it will provide the backbone for a new generation of services which require much higher speeds and device density than is currently offered on 4G. As the number of connected devices skyrockets, 5G will be crucial for everything from mobile AR/VR, to faster transactions for financial services, to changing the way that manufacturers produce and distribute their products.

But not only will we have to wait a few years for 5G in the UK, perhaps even until 2022; we will also have to wait longer for people to invent the new services that run on 5G. According to a report by PSB Research which surveyed a range of business leaders, analysts and tech enthusiasts, 91 per cent of respondents expect 5G to deliver new products and services that have yet to be invented, while 87 per cent expect new industries to emerge.

So pity the poor CIO who’s given the job of upgrading corporate infrastructure to be 5G-ready, without any strategy to underpin the necessary investment. In truth, many of the advantages that CEOs are seeking (and demanding that their CIO solves with 5G) can be achieved through existing, proven technologies. For example, software-defined networking and network function virtualisation (SDN / NFV) can bring significant improvements in both speed and network capacity – certainly enough to support most types of applications that businesses can realistically expect to provision in the next few years.

How, then, can the CIO prepare for 5G? The best way to build the case for investment – or, indeed, for holding fire on that investment – is to work with other strategic decision-makers in the business to work out the potential use cases for 5G. Remember, the CIO is the technology expert; others may have a vision for the business that could be solved with existing technologies. Only the CIO has the knowledge and experience to show others how to achieve the corporate vision, and whether 5G is the answer.

CIOs must be willing to engage in in-depth conversations about business strategy that might well be out of their comfort zone. They should be voice of reason in the boardroom, compelling others around the table to map out, with detail and precision, the problems that the business faces and their vision for the new services that they want to deliver.

They must outline the way forward, encouraging others to build a proper use case for each service or application to be built on 5G. As well as demanding clear and realistic use cases, CIOs must also make the financial case for investment. For example, they need to establish whether the return on investment merits a major network overhaul with new technologies, or whether the business can get similar capabilities with a smaller expenditure on systems with a proven pedigree.

Speed is often essential when a new technology arrives on the scene, with early adopters stealing a march on their competitors by bringing new services to market faster. That’s not necessarily the case with 5G: there must be a need for speed before a business commits to such a major decision. The CIO has a crucial role in ensuring that the business follows the right path to 5G, and doesn’t rush headlong down dead ends in the blind pursuit of speed for speed’s sake.

https://www.iottechexpo.com/northamerica/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/all-events-dark-text.pngInterested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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