A shot of 5G towers against a blue sky - remote work and 5G concept
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To talk of 5G as a technology of the future does not give an entirely accurate view of the state of play in the market now, as for many people in the US it is already accessible. If enterprises have not yet adopted it yet, it is only a matter of time and they will also need to upgrade or even change technologies once it is established in the business community.

5G is the fifth generation of cellular networks, and it is expected to be one of the fastest wireless technologies ever created This is not to be confused with the 5G that you may see on your Wi-Fi router, which is referring to 5 GHz frequencies for your internet's home wireless network. 5G wireless technology means that users will have quicker downloads and huge impacts on how you work and play. Imagine, for example downloading a 4K movie in seconds rather than minutes.

5G Accessibility

According to New York City-based Verizon, most people living in US cites should have access already. Verizon, like many other organizations in the telecommunications sector, has been preparing for the launch of 5G over the past few years and has been testing the technology in a variety of markets to ensure it is built right.

Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband mobile network officially launched in April of 2019 in Chicago and Minneapolis and will have reached 30 cities nationwide by year’s end. The launch means that it now has the potential to support millions of devices at once and can support improvements in accessibility, expand the capabilities of broadband and progress public safety, health and security. In fact, it provides all the technical capabilities that should enable easier and more accessible remote working.

Related Article: What is 5G, And How Will It Work?

Is 4G Enough?

David Payette, the founder of Poland-based upphone.com, believes that 4G is already enough. While it’s true that 5G offers blazing fast speeds, 4G LTE already provides more than enough speed for most remote workers.

At the moment, Skype’s highest recommended internet connection speed is 8 Mbps, for group video calls with seven or more people. 6 Mbps is recommended for 1080p YouTube streaming. 4G LTE already offers much faster speeds than either of these bandwidth-intensive applications. The target of many 5G networks is 2 Gbps download speeds, or 2000 Mbps. That’s 250x faster than Skype or YouTube at full HD quality.

There is a problem, though. 5G operates over shorter distances than 4G LTE but allows for over 10x more devices per node to connect. Carriers are concentrating on deploying 5G in major cities first, where Wi-Fi is readily available and not subject to cellular data limits. “5G may make remote work more acceptable eventually, but it’s not going to happen this year or even next — maybe in five years we’ll see a shift,” he said.

Related Article: How 5G Will Impact Augmented and Virtual Reality Use 

5G Use Cases

5G is already established for some use cases, according to Aruna Ravichandran CMO of Cisco’s collaboration business. She points to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). AR and VR technology will further evolve in enabling video conferencing for training, telemedicine, she told us. 

“We have seen telepresence in its early forms over the past two decades, but it is now coming into its own thanks to new technologies like 5G bandwidth for data, higher quality video, facial recognition, and artificial intelligence,” she said. “Existing and emerging technologies now enable people to process and shape the visual imagery needed to work inside a scenario from a distance, or to train for a new skill. Telemedicine — from examining a patient to performing surgery — is now a reality.”

Technicians responsible for maintaining and repairing complex machinery are already using AR to replace manuals and books. Conferencing and collaboration have also taken significant steps forward, away from audio-only teleconference speakers and dry-erase boards into an immersive world of telepresence, in which participants appear on screens with much more dimensional context including dynamic camera tracking and relevant informational labels like name, job and professional background.

Ryan Webber is vice president of enterprise mobility at Ontario-based SOTI, which develops mobile and IoT device management solutions. He cites two examples where 5G has already enabled remote work.

1. 5G in Healthcare

5G is already transforming the healthcare industry. With flexibility through networks, healthcare providers will be able to do things that simply couldn't do before. For example, mobile technology is helping facilitate the shift to home healthcare care for an aging population living longer with chronic diseases.

Hospitals are having a hard time keeping up with the demand for healthcare services, which is paving the way for more and better services delivered through home healthcare. Visiting nurses are going paperless by using mobile devices in patient homes to perform healthcare visits, provide patient documentation and stay compliant. In order to maintain regulatory compliance and patient confidentiality, healthcare organizations must have an EMM solution in place for their fleet of mobile devices being used in the field.

2. 5G in Retail

Currently, retailers use fast networks for local servers in-store, but connections to the backend are through a shared pipe that goes back to home office. These are dedicated trunks that are secure and reliable. If retailers switch from using these dedicated connections to back office systems to 5G, this will open a lot more bandwidth, allowing them to do much more, like push more data, more analytics back and forth, apps they can push down to devices in-store and other customer endpoints.

For this transition to occur, 5G needs to be prevalent in all their retail locations, especially in key locations. It is likely this transition will take a few years. The network will need to be set up first, before new systems are put in place. Organizations must wait for entire regions to be covered with 5G technology (all stores in-region to have 5G accessibility), before retailers will consider switching to 5G in those regions. All these changes will be slow due to their mass impacts. “Once networks are in place, and are robust, secure and cost-effective, businesses like retailers will then follow suit and switch over to 5G networks for their backend operations to head office. This entire transition will likely take 5 years to be fully in place,” he said.

5G And Latency

When people discuss 5G's potential, they tend to focus on the incredible speeds that the technology will provide but it's the ultra-low latency that will be responsible for use cases that simply could never been done before in corporate environments.

Think surgery — lag is entirely unacceptable in life and death situations, where precision matters most. Of paramount importance to remote workers is a reliable, fast internet connection.

Lower latency is going to allow Fortune 500 enterprises to feel more comfortable with remote work, Arnold Kim, COO of Los Angeles-based Advanced RF Technologies, said. This is because with lower latency enterprises can finally move beyond webinars and video conferencing to allow for AR/VR for meetings that truly simulates interpersonal interaction. “This is also likely to reduce air travel, which is a major environmental concern, and there will be many companies that see this public positioning an attractive reason to adopt remote work,” he said.

Related Article: Culture and Productivity in the Era of Remote Work

Remote Culture

There is one caveat in all this. Stacy Caprio, founder of Chicago-based Growth Marketing pointed out that even if the technology is available, it does not necessarily mean that organizations will allow employees to work from home.

Simply having access to a faster connection, which would also require technology updates by the company and remote workers at an additional cost, would not change the attitude a company has that is either pro or against remote work, she said.

Allowing employees to work remotely is a function of deep-seated belief that people can get work done away from an office and a function of trusting your employees, not a function of how fast you think their connection will be or what access to technology they will have. Remote working requires work culture changes that need to be implemented apart from work cultures.