The excitement around 5G continues to build, and with good reason. The technology stands to provide bigger and better mobile communications than ever before, and the tech world could be on the brink of a revolution in media quality and wireless speed. Small and medium businesses (SMBs) can gain enormous potential benefits from the implementation of 5G when the time is right.
However, it’s important to get some fresh perspective before upgrading your business to new and pricey technology. And the truth is that for most small and medium businesses, 5G has the potential to be more trouble than it’s worth right now. The technology is still working out some important kinks, and SMBs may not be positioned to get the benefits just yet.
Why do we advise pumping the brakes on the 5G party? Here are five reasons why you should think about waiting before making the upgrade.
Proper 5G Service
Despite abundant fanfare for the rollout of 5G, most areas of the country don’t have real 5G service. 5G is present in several neighborhoods in a few dozen major cities, but almost everywhere else, its deployment has been extremely limited.
That’s because true 5G requires many short-range, high-frequency waves. Unlike 4G’s longer waves, which can be transmitted between cell service towers miles apart, 5G needs a network of densely clustered small-cell antennas. Typically, these antennas are placed in pole-mounted enclosures and installed in numerous locations around cities to provide 5G service.
Unfortunately, the deployment of these antennas has faced regulatory hurdles and cost barriers. Until the market gains some clarity on these issues and widespread installation begins, 5G service may not be in your area any time soon due to its substantially shorter range. (And if your business is in a rural area, it could be years before you have 5G available.)
Paying For 5G Before It’s Completely Available
If 5G isn’t widely available in your area yet, it stands to reason that you shouldn’t be paying for it. However, that’s exactly what many 5G-capable plans will require you to do: pay for something you’re not getting.
When 5G isn’t available in your area, your mobile device will default back to 4G LTE—the same thing you’re already paying for on your SMB’s current data plan. There’s no reason to pay for 5G and get 4G instead, so for SMBs, it will often be worth waiting a little bit longer and getting a bit more bang for your buck.
Faster Chips and Better Phones
Unfortunately, the first generation of devices with new technology is often quickly superseded by another wave of superior devices that have mastered the tech more thoroughly. This pattern seems likely to hold true with 5G, as current 5G phones are using powerful but aging chipsets that will soon be replaced.
It’s become clear that 2020 and 2021 will be the years of big 5G device rollouts. Qualcomm recently unveiled its new Snapdragon 765 and 865 chipsets, which will power the next generation of 5G phones. The bottom line is that if your business doesn’t need 5G immediately, there are likely better devices on the way already–so holding out for something a little better is a good move.
4G Is Far From Dead
Unlike the fairly rapid transition from 3G to 4G, an industry-wide shift from 4G to 5G doesn’t seem likely to happen soon. That’s because 5G is a fundamentally different technology than 4G. It’s not a wholesale replacement for 4G; rather, 5G currently builds on top of 4G technology and uses it as a jump-off for improved performance.
For starters, 5G phones will still need to use 4G to get the initial “handshake” that connects a phone to a wireless network. If 5G is available, the connection will then switch over. “Standalone” 5G (which doesn’t use 4G for these purposes) is coming eventually, but most experts say it’s still at least a year or two away from wide release.
4G is also still widely used for Internet of Things (IoT) applications, which often require relatively little bandwidth. For most IoT device manufacturers, there won’t be a good reason to upgrade to 5G for quite some time, meaning that your 4G IoT devices won’t be pushed into obsolescence by 5G in the near future.
Finally, 4G LTE speeds are still continuing to improve, signaling that the technology is still seeing high levels of investment and that it will be relevant for many years to come. (Cue a collective sigh of relief from all the folks wondering if they’d be holding 4G LTE-powered paperweights in a few months.)
5G Building Penetration
Early 5G adopters may find themselves facing frustrating issues with building penetration. In part, this may be a result of the lack of sufficient 5G cellular antennas, but the larger point is that telecom companies still haven’t quite figured out how to achieve reliable building penetration on 5G frequencies.
That means that the frustrating lack of service that many 4G users experience indoors may not get any better with 5G. In fact, it might even get worse. Something as simple as a tree or a pane of extra-thick glass can block 5G signal transmission, which means that SMBs likely can’t rely on it to provide consistent indoor service right now.
Other methods may emerge that will allow 5G signal to be improved in urban landscapes, such as the potential development of new plastic enclosures and electronics enclosures that allow signals to be transmitted more powerfully. But for right now, 5G hasn’t yet demonstrated the reliability in building penetration that will make it a truly dependable technology.
5G stands to be just as revolutionary as 4G was, and the day will come when it’s a must-have for just about every SMB. For now, however, it’s a smart move to wait until the time is right and the investment makes sense for your business.