How enterprises can prep for 5G networks

Enterprises are still unsure about 5G’s potential, while network providers say ‘help us help you’

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Chevron Corp. disclosed plans in September to add predictive maintenance in its oil fields and refineries by arming thousands of pieces of equipment with sensors by 2024 that will predict when equipment in the field will need to be serviced.  

The forward-looking move comes as sensors become less expensive, the Internet of Things continues to connect devices wirelessly to cloud-based platforms that can quickly analyze data, and as predictive analytics promises to create competitive advantage.

But when it comes to Chevron’s plans for upgrading to fifth-generation or 5G networking, which has the potential to move the equipment’s data exponentially faster, with lower latency, and the bandwidth to connect a million devices per square kilometer vs. 4G’s roughly 1,000 devices per kilometer — Chevron is curious, but not ready to commit just yet.

“Chevron is always investigating new technologies, including 5G, but our current needs are fully met with 4G and other networking technologies,” said a Chevron spokesperson for its technology and midstream groups. “As 5G networking matures and comes down in cost, we will consider it for areas that require 5G capabilities.” 

It’s a familiar refrain from many companies that don’t know much about 5G or what it will be able to do for the enterprise. When wireless technology provider Ericsson asked 1,000 C-level executives in 10 industries about barriers to adopting 5G in late 2017, 62 percent cited that it was “too soon to know what the real benefits will be.” Other top concerns included data security and privacy, lack of standards and the challenges of end-to-end integration.

Those sentiments haven’t changed much almost a year later, except that product standards that allow manufacturers to start developing compatible handsets, chip sets and networking equipment were finalized in December 2017 and June 2018.

There’s plenty of hype around 5G and its promise to revolutionize driverless cars, virtual reality and entertainment, but what’s less clear is how it will enable business-transforming innovation for the typical enterprise.

So far, 5G providers have been touting trials that prove the technology’s performance, such as AT&T’s first data transfer over millimeter wave using standards-based, production equipment in September, and Verizon’s breakthrough with Nokia handing off a signal seamlessly to a vehicle traveling between two radio sectors in August.  They remain tight-lipped, however, about trials they’re working on with enterprise customers that could demonstrate 5G’s benefits for enterprises. Instead, many wireless providers are looking for enterprises to come to them with their wireless wish lists and pain points, so that they can develop tailored 5G use cases.

Will 5G really be a game-changer for enterprises, and if so, when? Networking analysts, consultants and wireless providers lay out the facts about 5G today, and they offer advice on what enterprises should do to prepare.

5G today: What to expect

Verizon and AT&T have announced plans to roll out 5G in 16 cities, collectively, by year’s end, but those rollouts come with caveats.  AT&T will initially offer 5G hotspots or “pucks,” in 12 cities, but only in parts of the cities with the highest network demand and coverage needs. Pucks will also be available for

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