Enterprises roll out private 5G while standards, devices, coverage evolve

Early adopters are beginning to test private 5G deployments, inspired by the promise of superior performance and support for previously infeasible applications.

5G mobile wireless network
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5G promises dramatically faster speeds, lower latency and increased capacity than today's 4G LTE technology. It's also a potential alternative to Wi-Fi with greater reliability and performance in industrial settings.

Coverage, standards, and device support still aren't where they need to be for full deployment, but that isn't stopping some companies. Early adopters are rolling out 5G initiatives before all the pieces are fully in place, in order to reap immediate benefits and get a jump on the competition.

READ MORE: Private 5G keeps Whirlpool driverless vehicles rolling

The U.S. Veterans Administration is one of those early adopters. It's using Microsoft’s 5G-enabled HoloLens augmented-reality headsets to create holograms for medical training, surgery planning, and even during actual surgeries.

"This is the most dramatic and exciting time in medical history," says Thomas Osborne, director of the National Center for Collaborative Healthcare Innovation and the Chief Medical Informatics Officer at the VA's Palo Alto Health Care System. There's an enormous flood of data to contend with, Osborne says, and today's Wi-Fi and 4G LTE networks can't keep up.

The hospital was looking to 5G to bridge the gap, and the equipment has just arrived. To be exact, Verizon's "network on wheels" arrived on Jan. 31, Osborne says, providing a local area network with both 4G and 5G support. "On February 4, at 7:32 p.m., we generated the first 5G signal," he says.

There are many potential uses for 5G, but for the hospital the one that really stands out is virtual reality. VA Palo Alto has the newly released HoloLens 2 augmented-reality headset from Microsoft, with wireless 5G support. Images are displayed inside the headset, and to the user, it looks as though they appear in the air around them, something like the virtual reality "holodeck" rooms on the TV show Star Trek.

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