5G planning: Five things CIOs should be doing now

As 5G technology gains momentum, CIOs and business leaders need to prepare for the opportunities -- and the potential fallout.
Written by Mary Shacklett, Contributor

By the end of this year, both Verizon and AT&T will have launched 5G networks with data communications rates up to 1.5 GBps. "In five years, I believe we will wonder how we lived without it," said John Stephens, CFO and senior executive vice president of AT&T. "But it will take some time to evolve."

The evolution of 5G should certainly be of interest to CIOs. Here are five ways they should be planning for 5G now.

SEE: 5G technology: A business leader's guide (Tech Pro Research)

1. Setting new business and IT goals

5G network bandwidth and speed dwarfs the bandwidth and speed of the communications we have today. This will facilitate a surge in high-bandwidth and real-time communications that companies have been anxious to deploy -- and it's going to have an absolute impact on IT strategic plans.

For CIOs, this means proactively meeting with key executives and managers in the business areas of the company.

Potential business application areas that could expand are step-ups in the use of mobile computing, which will have its bandwidth limitations removed. Data downloads could become non-factors, and we're likely to see Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile computing devices connected in real time to the network throughout the day. This will continue to facilitate the move from desktop to mobile computing that's already in process.

We are likely to see more real-time video conferencing and use of video as well.

This could spark significant growth in real-time video-based applications, such as telemedicine and telesurgery in healthcare, the use of drone fleets to fly missions in military operations, real-time marketing to consumers who are locationally detected near a retail store, and the ability of a utility repair person to live-conference with a subject matter expert at the home office if the onsite tech has a question about how to go about a repair.

2. Making network and infrastructure revisions

Now is the time for CIOs to audit their present network infrastructures and see what upgrades and/or replacements to network hardware, software, and services might be needed to get ready for 5G. Network upgrades are expensive, so it's advisable to build out a budget plan that phases in systematic upgrades over a multi-year period that can roughly follow the multi-year trajectory of enterprise 5G adoption.

How much will networks change? Networks, and the traffic they carry, could grow exponentially with 5G.

"Once 5G arrives on a nationwide basis, there is so much bandwidth available that we will have pretty much unlimited access to data," Forrester analyst Dan Bieler predicted.

5G will also introduce new network management techniques. One of these is network slicing, which enables IT to partition a single physical network into multiple virtual networks that are dedicated to specific purposes, such as running an enterprise's IoT.

Network slicing will enable IT to better manage the performance of specific networks and applications. It also facilitates tighter security over these dedicated 'mini networks', since only certain users and applications will be permitted access.

SEE: Mini-glossary: 5G terms you should know (free TechRepublic PDF)

3. Preparing for a data avalanche

Ensighten, a marketing security solutions provider, recently conducted a survey of more than 600 company marketing professionals: 62 percent of respondents said they often felt overwhelmed by the amount of data they have, and 85 percent said that they were unable to utilize the data fully.

On the IT data management side of the enterprise, an IDC research project sponsored by Seagate revealed that by 2025, six billion mobile users and IoT applications will have at least one data interaction every 18 seconds. IDC is projecting that this will result in more than 90ZB (90 billion terabytes) of data in 2025.

CIOs and other IT leaders should be preparing for the 5G data avalanche now. What kind of data will you accept? Are there certain types of data you want to exclude from network access? For the types of data you collect and manage, how will it be stored and accessed? All are action items that should be addressed in IT's network and data planning.

4. Adopting new technologies and business processes

Enterprise adoption of cloud solutions for data processing and storage is already well established. With 5G, even more momentum will be added to the business case of moving IT to the cloud, because one of the constraining factors for cloud that exists today --bandwidth -- will virtually be removed with 5G.

Accelerated moves of mission-critical applications to the cloud will impact IT strategies in the areas of application deployment, support, governance, and security. This will also prompt a need for IT to work closely with cloud vendors that can be entrusted as able stewards of sensitive corporate data and processing.

The bandwidth and data transfer capabilities of 5G are likely to reshape internal business processes and how IT supports them, as well. One area where IT could see increased business interest is in the deployment of augmented reality (AR).

An example of AR is a building inspector who goes out in the field, inspects a building, and can flip on their 'smart glasses' to access the schematics of the electrical wiring in the building, even though the wiring is covered up with drywall. How can they see it? Their smart glasses enable them to live-access the electrical schematics drawings that are on file at headquarters.

AR applications are also likely to increase in corporate training. For many years, aircraft  companies have used AR in-flight simulators that have simulated the cockpit and flight patterns in the training of pilots. Now, AR can be extended to other functions. For instance, Walmart is using AR to teach store employees how to interact more effectively with customers.

To support AR, corporate networks have to be up to the task. Installing 5G is only one step. Other steps in the process are upgrading network hardware, software, services, and strategic plans, and working hand-in-hand with end business users, where existing business processes -- and how IT supports them -- will also change.

SEE: How 5G can unlock IoT's potential (ZDNet)

5. Bracing for security threats

Along with 5G's promise comes the reality that more and more IoT devices and systems will be connected through 5G, and data will move through networks much faster. But 5G is still evolving, and many inherent security vulnerabilities are yet to be discovered. In total, these factors create heightened security risks that IT may not be prepared for. This is a strong argument for IT to go slow in the adoption of 5G -- and to convince CEOs and corporate boards of the need to do so.

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