5G could generate trillions in benefits in the next decade. So why aren't companies moving faster with it?

5G offers big benefits - but there are big hurdles, too.
Written by Daphne Leprince-Ringuet, Contributor

In the next ten years, a whopping extra $8 trillion could be added to global GDP thanks to 5G-enabled industries, according to predictions from Nokia.

Research sponsored by the Finnish 5G equipment provider suggests that 5G will underpin the age of IoT, AI, smart cities and autonomous cars, and have a direct positive impact on business performance.

The findings seem at odds with the current context: while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cripple small and large companies alike, some analysts predict that businesses will focus on near-term survival, and that investments in technologies that are not directly linked to recovery will take a backseat. It's hard to get excited by 5G when you don't even get to leave your house.

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But Nokia's research found that, instead of shying away from IT investments, the health crisis has prompted companies to double down on digital transformation programs. The report estimates, therefore, that despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, the next five years will see 71% of companies investing in 5G.

This will be especially the case among industries that have historically lacked the digital tools that the pandemic has now made key to business continuity. Sectors such as manufacturing, utilities and healthcare, which have lagged behind in digitization, will invest extensively in new technologies to build up resilience. 

Faster connectivity has a proven role to play in the process. Nokia's report claimed that companies currently implementing and expanding 5G-enabled technologies were the only ones to experience productivity boosts throughout the pandemic, as well as the only ones that were able to maintain or increase customer engagement. 

Over a third (37%) of those businesses achieved rapid growth last year, as opposed to only 5% of businesses that are not yet contemplating 5G deployments.

Gabriela Styf Sjöman, chief strategy officer at Nokia, said: "5G adoption is categorically shown to fuel business success. Organizations that have integrated 5G stand to benefit from advantages that go way beyond faster, more efficient and reliable network services.

"Moreover, the biggest challenges we face as a society – from climate change to the pandemic – can be better tackled through at-scale use of the data and technologies that 5G will unleash."

But while businesses seem aware of the potential that 5G holds, with almost nine out of ten decision makers affirming they have some kind of strategy for 5G, there is a gap between saying and doing: only 15% of the leaders surveyed confirmed that they were actually already investing in 5G deployments.

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Discrepancies also exist at the national level. In the US and Saudi Arabia, for example, over 12% of companies are already implementing and expanding 5G. The number falls to 4% in the UK, where most organizations are deploying the technology in the form of trials and pilots. 

Nokia named a number of barriers to implementation of 5G, including limited access to appropriate infrastructure, cost and complexity, education about the technology and concerns regarding the security of the network. It identified three areas where there is room for improvement: better government regulation to reduce the cost of investment in 5G networks, bridging the information gap for companies that are still unaware of the benefits that the technology could bring, and encouraging risk-taking within businesses, to overhaul operations entirely in order to incorporate 5G throughout the supply chain.

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