Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Tech Budgets 2020: A CXO's Guide

Should 5G be in your 2020 IT budget?

If your company is considering early adoption of 5G, be prepared to pay extra and wait.

The game of 5G and geopolitics: What’s at stake? The world’s most promising technology platform has become the grand prize in a game of global trade war. As China seizes prime platform territory, US allies find themselves caught in the crossfire. ZDNet's Scott Fulton sits down with TechRepublic's Karen Roby and shows us how anyone wins a game like this. Read more: https://zd.net/2WYnbBj

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5G networks are about to become a reality. This new wireless technology (supported by all four major US carriers) will allow users to download very large files within seconds. The fifth-generation cellular network technology has three main usages:

  • Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) - standard consumer usage.
  • Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) - used for mission-critical applications that require uninterrupted and robust data exchange.
  • Massive Machine Type communications (mMTC) - connects a large number of low-power devices in a wide area.

The biggest benefit of 5G, however, is the combination of significantly faster speeds combined with much more reliable networks for mobile devices. Average download speeds for 5G could easily reach 1GBps. Compared to the paltry average of 12-30Mbps of 4G, and it becomes quite clear why 5G is such a sought-after technology.

5G is happening and should be the de facto standard within the coming years. However, the big question that comes to mind for businesses, is "Should 5G be in your 2020 IT budget?" Let's answer that question.

SEE: Tech budgets 2020: A CXO's guide (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

Availability

First, let's address availability. As of Q3, 2019 5G was only available in the following US cities:

  • Atlanta - Sprint
  • Chicago - Sprint
  • Cleveland - T-Mobile
  • Dallas - T-Mobile
  • Denver - Verizon
  • Fort Worth - Sprint
  • Houston - Sprint
  • Indianapolis - Verizon
  • Kansas City - Sprint
  • Las Vegas - T-Mobile
  • Los Angeles - T-Mobile
  • New York - T-Mobile
  • Minneapolis - Verizon
  • Phoenix - Verizon
  • Providence - Verizon
  • St. Paul - Verizon
  • Washington DC - Verizon

That's a limited number of rollouts so far. Couple that with the small selection of supported devices, and it becomes clear 5G is not ready for prime time. The list of devices (as of July, 2019) looks like:

  • Galaxy S10 5G
  • Netgear Nighthawk 5G hotspot
  • INseego 5G M1000 MifFi Hotspot
  • LG V50 ThinQ 5G
  • HTC 5G Hub
  • Motorola Moto Z3 (with Moto Mod)
  • Motorola Moto Z4 (with Moto Mod)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G

That's it. There are three smartphones (one of which requires an attachment), a hotspot, and a hub. 

The cost

First off, the cost of 5G-compatible devices is high. Take, for instance, the Galaxy S10 5G. This device will cost $1,299 on Verizon and T-Mobile networks. AT&T also offers the same device, but only to business customers and developers. The LG V50 ThinQ 5G runs $1,152 and is only available on Sprint and Verizon. With the Moto Z3, you must attach a bulky Mod to make it work (and the phone itself is a bit long in the tooth). As for Apple? There'll be no 5G devices until 2020. 

With regard to the cost of a 5G network plan, it looks as though most carriers won't be gouging consumers too much. For example, Verizon will offer what it's calling the Above Unlimited plan that gives consumers unlimited 5G data when connected to a 5G network and 20GB of 4G hotspot data on the Verizon 4G network. The Above Unlimited plan currently is $105/month. That, of course, is the consumer cost. Whether Verizon will offer business discounts is yet to be seen (but chances are good it will).

So you have a higher cost for devices and a higher cost for the associated network, and you have to crunch a few numbers to make that decision.

Why should you adopt?

The answer to this question is fairly simple. If you have users who would benefit from the dramatically increased download speeds and reliability of a 5G network/device combination, then it's a no-brainer. Beyond that, it gets a bit more complicated. Why? Because 5G is such a new technology, many of the business-centric use cases aren't ready to be rolled out. 

Let's take a look at a few use cases where 5G would be beneficial: 

  • Users like technicians who spend a good amount of time on site, where having a more reliable network connection and the ability to quickly download necessary files for their jobs is a requirement (eMBB) .
  • Medical staff who work in remote locations and depend upon a carrier network and need information as fast as possible (or require VR to do delicate procedures) (eMBB).
  • Satellite locations, where the only network connectivity available is a hotspot. That being the case, those locations would greatly benefit from 5G hotspot speeds (especially over a 4G hotspot, where they're dealing with a max of 35Mbps speeds) (Fixed Wireless).
  • Network and Internet of Things (IoT) devices that help to connect and share data between locations, machines, and infrastructure (mMTC).
  • Smart vehicles/smart cities (mMTC).
  • Control of critical remote devices (such as robots) (URLLC).

Some of the above use cases (those associated with mMTC and URLLC) are not ready for rollout, but will be a part of 5G in the near future.

It all boils down to speed of data transmission and reliability. If these two factors are key to your business, then 5G should be considered a must-upgrade. Of course, availability will be the biggest hurdle. But once it's available in your area (and from your carrier), if your company would benefit from a vastly improved mobile network, 5G should most certainly be in your 2020 IT budget.

Why shouldn't you adopt?

Yet again, this answer is simple. If your staff functions fine with their current mobile network, there's no reason to roll out 5G devices to those users. Or, if your business doesn't benefit from remotely controlled devices, such as smart devices that link locations, and so on, then the benefit of 5G is probably not high on your budgetary needs. Of course, if you are in an area that isn't supported by a 5G network, the question doesn't arise. And who knows when the entire nation will be covered by this speedier, more reliable technology?

5G is here to stay

Whether it's in your 2020 IT budget or not, 5G is here to stay. If you don't opt to add this new technology into your current fiscal budget, you should certainly consider it for the coming year.

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