5G vs 4G – What’s the difference and why should businesses care?


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When 4G came out, the incredible increase in speeds opened up new doors for consumers and businesses alike. 5G is set to make an even bigger splash, changing the way we interact with businesses and technology.

In the UK, 5G has already made its appearance. EE has rolled out this technology in major cities throughout 2019. However, adoption of 5G is expected to increase significantly in 2020 with multiple rollouts planned by other carriers such as Vodafone.

The global 5G market value is set to grow to $4.2 billion by the end of 2020, almost double what it was in 2019. An FCCG report sited by the UK government estimates 5G will create £173 billion of incremental UK GDP growth between 2020 and 2030.

Clearly, 5G is the future. But what is the difference between 4G and 5G? And, what does it mean for business?

5G vs 4G – Bandwidth

How much data can be transferred from point A to point B in a given amount of time? Theoretically, 5G technology should be capable of ‘lightning speeds’ as fast as 1 to 10 Gbps. Conditions are rarely optimal in the real world, but users can still expect minimum transfer speeds of 50 Mbps to 1.5 Gbps.

In the real world this will be a big upgrade from the maximum 300 Mbps to 1 Gbps we currently get from 4G. This, in practice, delivers speeds that average (only) around 15 Mbps.

Why This Matters

Not only are businesses working with increasingly large data sets, but the increasing number of active devices means available bandwidth is split between ever more points. 5G has the potential to support up to 5 million devices per square foot, drastically reducing bandwidth issues. With IoT devices set to take over the workplace, that bandwidth will become more precious than ever before.

With ever more assets living in the cloud or in dispersed locations, bandwidth will become crucial for collaboration and productivity.

5G vs 4G – Latency

Latency is the speed at which a single packet can travel from the source to the endpoint and back. Low latency is crucial for systems where packages are not necessarily large, but immediacy is of the utmost importance. 5G will have minimum latencies as low as 1 to 10 milliseconds. Even at its worst, that’s a fivefold improvement from the current 50ms average latency we experience with 4G LTE.

Why It Matters

As the range of connected devices expands, so will businesses’ need for low latency networks. The autonomous vehicle industry is one industry set to benefit massively from lower latencies, and it’s easy to understand why. However, as devices and bandwidth usage increase, latency suffers, which is why the holistic improvements brought by 5G are so crucial.

5G vs 4G – Security

There is no such thing as watertight network security. Each time we adopt a new technology, new unpredictable threats emerge. 5G is no different. The inherent complexity in 5G networks and the widespread use of IoT devices and network slicing that go with it will result in new attack vectors and potential situations for security breaches.

While this sounds threatening, this doesn’t mean 5G is less secure. Improved encryption and better potential for systems monitoring are two improvements over 4G. There is also some threat isolation that exists between network slices.

Why It Matters

Security will need to be assessed holistically. The old adage that a chain is only as strong as it’s the weakest wink is all too relevant in today’s interconnected workplace. This is not only true with the network, but the stakeholders, devices, applications, and users all need to be on the same page regarding security.

Furthermore, incorporating new technologies with legacy systems can increase the chance of exploitative situations. Businesses can start by slowly switching to 5G with the eventual goal of a 5G-only biosphere.

5G is the future of business – embrace it now

To make sure the transition is as smooth as possible, businesses will need to assess the adoption of 5G. The innovation will increase availability and access to consumers dramatically from 2020 onwards.

As with all new technologies, the cost will be higher than existing 4G implementations. However, considering 5G’s revenue-generating potential, it looks likely to be a worthy investment.

With major coverage and technology rollouts planned for 2020, the time to upgrade is now.