By 2033, the 3G network that operates in the UK will be phased out, with the largest mobile-network providers in the country setting out their own respective dates on when the networks are finally switched off. The sunsetting of 3G is already well underway, as Vodafone plans to switch off the 3G networks in both Basingstoke and Plymouth in the early months of 2023 and allow the local populace the chance to enjoy the local 4G networks that have already received heavy investment. Three UK’s CTO David Hennessy has already proclaimed that ‘the future is undoubtedly 5G’ after 3G ‘[kicked-off] the mobile revolution’. There’s no doubt about it; the end of 3G is nigh.
What matters now is that businesses are prepared to reap the rewards presented by the fifth generation of mobile connectivity. With EE aiming to give the UK 5G coverage by 2028, and 5G networks set to cover over 40% of the world’s population by 2024, 5G’s prominence in the future of connectivity cannot be understated. Knowing the benefits associated with inducting 5G networks into your daily business operations is a vital step in achieving success in the new age of 5G. As the age of 3G becomes a footnote in the history of connectivity, a new chapter on 5G is set to be written.
But why is 3G being ‘sunsetted’?
In the early stages of 2000, the UK government began auctioning off the 3G spectrum to the major operators in the country, raising approximately £22.5bn for the network that promised to perform the data-crucial tasks of web browsing and sending emails. The radio spectrum proved to be a valuable resource that these companies sought to utilise.
By 2022, Vodafone was reporting that less than 4% of data used by customers was on the 3G network, down from the 30% being carried in 2016. Smartphones were now designed to be used on 4G and 5G networks, as they provided better connectivity rates for the more data-intensive tasks that have evolved in the 21st century.
Compared to the faster networks, 3G is less efficient on the spectrum, and the goal of a wider coverage of 5G cannot be achieved if 3G was operating on low and mid-frequency bands. It has become imperative for providers to start conducting ‘spectrum refarming’ and placing 5G in the lower bands. A lack of lower band spectrum to purchase was a problem faced by providers in the US during their sunsetting of 5G, meaning that they had to pull from the existing spectrum where 3G resides.
The inefficient energy usage of a 3G network means that the transition to 5G would help bring businesses closer to the goal of net zero, with Vodafone estimating that 5G networks are 10 times as energy efficient as its third-generation predecessor. The fact that 3G is essentially out of step with the demands of a business, both in the long and short-term, means that 5G is a far more desirable network to operate on. Before taking the decisive step towards 5G adoption, it is worth noting the exact benefits of 5G.
Collaborating and co-creating
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the future of work is one that operates on a hybrid working model. Statistics point towards a greater adoption of hybrid working patterns, with the ONS reporting a rise in the number of hybrid workers from February to May 2022. As businesses become more data-driven and dependent on a reliable network, the alure of a download speed that could reach 10-50 Gbps is one too hard to ignore for businesses looking to give employees the opportunity to work remotely. 5G grants organisations the means to transfer large amounts of data across their networks without threatening to lower the overall reliability and functionality of the network they are operating on.
A lower latency also plays a key part in 5G’s power to enable a new level of collaboration. Latency can be defined as the delay in which data is transferred from one point to another; essentially, the closer to zero latency is, the better. Increased user-end speeds that don’t suffer from extended ‘lag’ time makes remote working options available to businesses, as conference calls become effortless. The ease of bringing colleagues together gives 5G-optimised businesses the benefits of a mobile and productive workforce that can operate outside of the traditional office space.
Indeed, the various new methods of collaboration that 5G enables are all worth noting for any organisation. The rise of both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology can be utilised fully with a 5G connection, providing new channels to enhance the capacity to conduct business. Real-time collaboration can now move away from the traditional desktop or laptop, redefining the decentralisation of the workforce. Customer experience becomes more immersive with a more ‘hands-on’ product demonstration through VR, and AR can give employees a new avenue to provide on-the-job training or real-time assistance for those working in the field.
Hybrid working cannot thrive and grow without a workforce that can work efficiently while operating remotely. The sheer power of 5G can support this shift away from traditional office settings and grant employees the means to become more mobile and flexible with their working patterns. 3G networks wouldn’t be able to meet the increased demands for hybrid working and would curtail any migration towards flexible working patterns. Collaboration can be taken to new heights and advanced even further when 5G is applied to the emerging market that is the Internet of Things (IoT).
Enabling the Internet of Things
IoT refers to the billions of devices around the world that are connected to the Internet, capable of simultaneously collecting and sharing pieces of data with each other. Running many devices over traditional networks isn’t practical, meaning that businesses need to turn towards faster and more powerful networks to utilise the innovative potential of IoT. Considering 5G can support an estimated one million devices per .38 miles, it’s clear that an IoT-driven future is one built upon 5G.
The concept of the Internet of Things is one that can leave its mark on any business, and not just in the traditional sense of enabling automation or enhancing the productivity of employees. Customer experience remains a major consideration for any business, and it can benefit greatly from a 5G-powered IoT network. AI-powered virtual assistants and chatbots are at the forefront of customer interactions at a time when customers still value a more personalised experience when communicating with companies. Timely responses from an ‘agent’ operating 24/7 allow other agents to focus on other high-value tasks while operating on a more cost-effective basis. The potential of providing a seamless digital experience for customers is something any business would happily utilise.
It is, of course, worth mentioning the Internet of Thing’s impact on the productivity of employees. 5G’s capacity to support real-time collaboration has already been established, with low latency a key factor in adopting a 5G network. As 2G and 3G networks reach their end of life, the future of the Internet of Things has to be taken into consideration. The capabilities of IoT relies heavily on its overall performance, and that can only be achieved with a network that is fast and reliable. A network with a greater device capacity that reaches speeds 100 times faster than 4G demonstrates 5G’s suitability in constructing the base of an infrastructure that relies on the Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things certainly has plenty to offer any business, with the associated benefits only ready to be fully enjoyed if a 5G network is keeping the data flowing between each device. Reliability matters more than ever to future-proof any business and ensure that any unprecedented changes and challenges don’t threaten to cause complete chaos within an organisation. 3G wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demands of the Internet of Things. Knowing how 5G can optimise future goals and long-term success for a business is something that cannot be overlooked or diminished in importance. But what can 5G do for ‘the business of tomorrow’?
A sustainable future powered by 5G
Businesses are now more inclined to develop ESG policies that create a sustainable organisation that doesn’t add to the pressure challenges like climate change are already exerting. A study by IBM in May 2022 found that, compared to 2021, 37% more CEOs rated sustainability as a top priority for their business. The fifth generation of network connectivity has the potential to empower a sustainable future that maximises the benefits for businesses, their customers, and society overall. From reducing vehicle emissions to smarter resource usage, 5G has a role to play in creating a more sustainable future.
In 2015, the United Nations published its Sustainable Development Goals, with these 17 objectives designed to improve society by tackling outstanding issues such as poverty, inequality, and global preservation. Sustainability and combating climate change is perhaps the most critical goal set out in these SDGs, meaning that finding ways to apply cutting-edge tech to this objective is imperative. Studies have already shown that 5G networks are up to 90% more energy efficient per unit than 4G networks, with rapid deployment potentially cutting global CO2 output from mobile network operators by 0.5 billion tonnes by 2030.
An IoT network powered by 5G not only adds to the efficiency of employees but also cuts energy use by powering up and shutting down automatically when they are not in use. Smart meters that measure usage have already cut energy costs in the Empire State Building by 38%, as real-time analytics and data create a broader understanding of typical energy usage. As businesses seek sustainable practices, 5G is set to be the driving force behind it.
The development of 5G and its application to various sectors is set to make a huge difference regarding sustainability. In the agricultural sector, data-driven techniques have already been developed to meet rising food demands while reducing waste and maximising crop production. The delivery of healthcare can also become more streamlined and refined through a 5G network that provides instant data sharing while also opening up the opportunity for both remote surgery and remote rehabilitation. Healthcare becomes more accessible, and reduction in mortality rates fits in perfectly with those SDGs the UN have previously published.
Yet it will be in cities themselves where we’ll see 5G’s full application, especially when the urban population is set to rise to 68% of the total population by 2050. Integrating 5G-powered devices into a city’s infrastructure leads to effective decision-making regarding everyday challenges such as traffic management and even the distribution of services. Rapid data sharing means more timely decisions can be made to provide better services and ensure their workforce are given all the information they need to give customers a more enjoyable experience. In a city that promotes innovation, businesses can build upon that base and strive for a more productive, efficient, and sustainable business.
5G’s potential in creating a sustainable future is apparent, yet there are challenges that need to be addressed, including efficiency gains being made redundant by increased data consumption. But through continued development and assessment, these shortcomings can be addressed and ensure that 5G doesn’t present an additional threat to the environment. Businesses stand to benefit greatly from 5G’s improved efficiency over previous networks, with its application driving innovative new ventures such as smart cities. 3G networks just would not be able to maintain such a connected system while operating in a sustainable manner. Only through 5G can this move towards a sustainable future be maintained.
Now is the time to plan ahead
In January 2017, after AT&T terminated its 2G GSM service, San Francisco’s transportation system suffered from a mass disruption due to its reliance on the old network. The sunsetting of 3G is set to impact a wide variety of devices, including vehicle SOS systems, medical devices, and even connected devices used in critical business activities. Failing to prepare for the end of legacy tech and embracing the new will only result in a loss of efficiency and a disgruntled workforce.
Research from Barclays in 2019 revealed that only 15% of decision-makers in businesses surveyed were thinking about 5G and its future implementation. Taking crucial steps, such as budgeting for 5G investment and educating both leaders and employees on the importance of 5G, will ensure that businesses are ready to reap all the benefits that 5G can generate. A faster network means that a larger amount of data can be handled and transferred across a business, with telephony set to enjoy a brand new level of quality with a network that boats a latency lower than any of its predecessors. The reality of a more connected world through the Internet of Things and smart cities is very much at hand.
While we say a fond farewell to 3G, the network that revolutionised telecommunications in the early 200s, the fifth generation of connectivity is set to change the game completely.