Business leaders must operate with business imperatives in mind and one of these should be taking a structured and considered approach to 5G. James Bristow, SVP EMEA, Cradlepoint, discusses the benefits of 5G adoption and how it can serve to minimise disruption caused to operations during such uncertain times.
The current crisis has undoubtedly had a huge economic impact on the business world. From the disrupted delivery of microchips from China to a lack of copper component exports from Congo, the global pandemic has led to concerns that the UK will lack the supplies necessary to build the infrastructure required to make 5G a reality in the near future. That news, however, does not run in line with the evident demand from European enterprises. According to a recent GlobalData report, reliable connectivity is now considered ‘a critical commodity’.
During this period of unanticipated strain on the global economy, the speed and bandwidth, ultra-low latency, and network management paradigms of 5G would go some way to minimise disruption for enterprises. However, the level of change involved means there are a few considerations that must be accounted for first. Critically, ensuring a graceful pathway from existing LTE networks to 5G requires the following five business imperatives to be kept in mind.
1. Harness the power of the full connectivity spectrum
Because the 5G rollout is occurring in stages, 4G LTE, Gigabit-Class LTE, and 5G will all be used simultaneously for some time still. While network operators seek to monetise their 5G investment as quickly as possible, enterprises must therefore ensure they can manage multiple technologies across different sites.
From 4G LTE, to Gigabit-Class LTE, to 5G, it is critical that businesses harness the value of the full range of cellular technologies available and transition tens of thousands of sites gracefully between generations as technology becomes available in individual locations.
For example, an organisation may have: (1) thousands of existing sites running 4G LTE because Gigabit-Class LTE and 5G are currently unavailable in their locations; (2) thousands of other locations that have just upgraded to Gigabit-Class LTE to supplement bandwidth; and (3) a few sites that have already deployed 5G and are entirely wireless. With such a multi-faceted collection of contributing threads, using cloud-based management platforms is the best way to manage diverse networks effectively. By accounting for all the different technologies at play, businesses will reap the rewards of the full spectrum of connectivity.
2. Enable support for the full 5G spectrum
As a matter of strategy, network operators are deploying 5G services across multiple spectrum bands, including high band (mmWave), mid-band (sub-6) and low-band (sub-2). While network operators are relying on Edge networking vendors to deploy their services in any band of the spectrum, enterprises with numerous locations need the flexibility to deploy the latest wireless technologies on a by-site basis. By effectively implementing both the low bands of sub-1GHz to the higher bands of mmWave, businesses should be looking to create a bespoke solution for each of their physical locations.
In practice, a financial institution may want to transition to a wireless-as-primary connectivity model by deploying a high-band 5G service in its larger metropolitan branches and a mid-band 5G service in its suburban branches. In the near term, it may also run a failover application on low-band 4G or 5G in rural locations. As with supporting the full spectrum of connectivity technologies in the first imperative, by effectively deploying and utilising the different bands within 5G, businesses will be able to tailor their services effectively and with agility.
3. From installation to implementation – complete life cycle management
Unlike prior generations, 5G involves a collection of new technologies, spectrum, and deployment models. It is therefore vital that businesses choose a networking solution that not only offers unparalleled reliability and performance, but also clear visibility and control over its entire life cycle. Network operators have invested heavily in creating reliable, high-performing networks and businesses should ensure that they are not wasting that opportunity by using systems which lack the enterprise-level usability they are looking for.
As an example, an IT professional installing a 5G solution (particularly a high-band 5G solution) knows that the positioning of a 5G adaptor during installation will affect signal acquisition and therefore network performance. They understand that the more endpoints under management, the higher the complexity. In addition, they believe that having the right analytical tools is critical to avoiding issues across the network, as well as for troubleshooting further down the line. It is therefore imperative with 5G that businesses seek to take on solutions that support the entire implementation process and its continual use.
4. Carrier-class connectivity
Although each operator conforms to certain standards, they implement those standards differently to gain optimal efficiency and performance from their network. Additionally, software from modem manufacturers is designed to serve multiple operators within broad markets. Enterprises depend upon Edge networking vendors to get the most out of operators’ networks.
An operator may invent a network technology that accelerates mobile tower connections and requires end-point synchronisation, but if the Edge network vendor does not customise its solution for this feature, the enterprise will experience sub-optimal performance. Businesses must therefore ensure that they are choosing a solution that provides customised software-defined modem versions for each network provider’s requirements and capabilities, pre-programmed endpoints and multi-level integrity tests to predict vulnerable connections. By doing this, they will be securing the full connectivity capabilities being offered by every network provider operating within a location.
5. Empowering through hybridity
Although many IT pros will view wired and wireless Edge platforms as distinctly different systems, the success of SD-WAN – software-defined networking in a wide-area network – is changing that mindset. With 5G rivalling the fastest wired connections, enterprises are eager to expand their wireless WAN connections. To do this with the best results, businesses must facilitate effortless wireless endpoint management in a wired-first SD-WAN environment as part of a hybrid network. It would be equally beneficial for this deployment to include all-in-one capabilities – routing, embedded wireless and foundational SD-WAN.
‘Wired-first’ WAN solutions have minimal control over potentially thousands of wireless adaptors, while a ‘wireless-first’ solution will have robust wireless capabilities but with little or no wired SD-WAN capabilities. By forming a hybrid, enterprises can make use of those wireless devices while also leaning on a wired connection as an inherent part of the network.
A graceful pathway to enterprise-grade 5G
5G technology is pressing ahead within the context of an uncertain business world. For organisations looking to reap the benefits of 5G, a structured and considered approach is crucial. By recognising these five imperatives to enterprise-level 5G networks, organisations will not only transition gracefully to the new network paradigm, but will be best positioned to unlock new operational efficiencies and offer new experiences to customers, both of which will be key to sustained growth in the post-COVID-19 world. The rewards of 5G technologies are there for the taking; let’s make sure the opportunity isn’t squandered in the process.