5G’s most exciting potential lies in the private implementations many enterprises will use to drive innovation and transformation, according to Adams, senior vice president of private wireless markets at JMA Wireless.

5G may offer compelling new benefits over its predecessors in the mobile wireless world, but tapping those benefits isn’t always straightforward. Whereas earlier generations of the technology had no problem passing through walls and into the workspaces and other buildings that make up the modern enterprise, interior settings can be a challenge for the emerging new standard.

“Whereas 4G has the ability to work from the outside in, the most useful 5G frequencies won’t penetrate a typical building,” says Andrew Adams, senior vice president of private wireless markets at JMA Wireless. “Contained spaces such as offices, retail stores, factories, and warehouses will need dedicated 5G systems.”

In a recent interview, Adams shared his perspectives on 5G, potential applications, and the private 5G networks his firm is focusing on.

How will 5G play out differently for enterprises versus consumers, and where do you see the biggest opportunities in the next five years?

Adams: For consumers, it tends to be all about speed, which is what you see emphasized in the carriers’ ads. That will enable faster video downloads and the like. But the enterprise side is where we’ll see the real transformation, including the shift from Wi-Fi to private networks. At some level, that’s what 5G was designed for: It provides increased security, high-speed data, low latency, and the ability to segment capacity for dedicated purposes.

As carriers build out 5G coverage and capacity for their networks, the most interesting opportunities will be in contained spaces. Today, 85% of communication occurs indoors, but key 5G signals cannot penetrate external walls or windows. Companies will require dedicated 5G networks for these interior settings, and that’s where much of the 5G transformation will happen. We’re currently seeing a lot of trial and error—people are sorting out what 5G is, how it works, and how they can use it. In three years or so, we’ll see use cases with systems installed. By year five, we’ll see transformation in businesses and how they operate. That’s when the innovation will really start.

Where does private 5G come in?

New spectrum was made available in mid-2019 enabling organizations to unlock the power of 4G and 5G for use in their own dedicated networks. That’s what is termed private wireless, and we’re seeing a lot of interest from enterprises, the federal government, and municipalities. For enterprises, it addresses many of the areas Wi-Fi struggles with—specifically, security and ultra-reliable dedicated capacity. In cities, it’s drawing interest for applications that can help better serve citizens and provide reliable internet access to underserved communities.

How will private 5G networks be integrated with the 5G networks the carriers are building?

The two will come together in contained spaces. All that’s needed is a way to run both the carrier’s network and a private 5G network together, and that technology is available today. By converting functionality that previously required custom hardware into software, we’ve enabled both networks to run on the same system.

What types of use cases are you seeing?

Smart warehouses require 5G that allows robots to move around and maintain connectivity while storing and handling materials. Factory automation is another example. All the sensors in such scenarios need to be connected; using a wireless system makes it possible to deploy more of them and also to have flexibility in terms of positioning on the factory floor.

Outdoor work sites such as rail yards, ports, and construction sites—areas that aren’t typically connected to an IT system or wired for connectivity—are another use case. In these settings, private 5G can greatly increase efficiency. A company can start logging materials in as soon as they arrive, for example. On construction sites, video-enabled communication capabilities make it possible for building inspections to be conducted remotely.

Private 5G is also a perfect opportunity to help bridge the digital divide. We’re working with the city of Tucson, Arizona, to install private wireless systems meant specifically to provide internet coverage for underserved areas, enabling applications including remote learning and telehealth. By investing in this type of solution, the city also gains a platform that can be used to drive other smart city initiatives to improve the environment, save energy, and increase citizen safety. That’s where the advantage of dedicated capacity becomes so powerful—applications are separate and don’t interfere with one another.

What challenges need to be overcome to bring this potential to life?

There are two primary challenges—one on the carrier side, and one on the enterprise side. First, carriers are used to owning everything in their network, so mechanisms need to be put in place to make it possible to run their networks on systems owned by the enterprise. This is analogous in many ways to what happened after the breakup of the phone companies decades ago. With wireline networks in those days, the telephone companies were used to owning everything too. Since the breakup, the phone company brings a phone connection to your building, then it stops; from there, you can choose the VoIP or other system you’d like to use inside. We need a similar transformation for 5G.

The second challenge is that enterprises’ IT groups need to become comfortable using 5G—which isn’t difficult with software-based solutions like ours. They don’t have to understand the guts of 5G—just how to administer the network.

What steps should enterprises and CIOs be taking today?

How business gets done is becoming more and more untethered. Ultimately, 5G will become the glue that enables people-to-people, people-to-machine, and machine-to-machine communications. It’s important to develop an understanding of 5G and then step back to look at the organization’s business processes and consider where adopting an untethered approach could drive efficiency and spur new capabilities. That’s where the innovation is going to come from.

What excites you most about the 5G-enabled future?

The unknown. When 4G was rolled out in 2010, no one predicted it would transform how we take a taxi, for example. Today the app revolution has changed the way we do practically everything. The same thing will happen in the enterprise space with 5G. Transformation and what could come—that’s what’s exciting.

—by Katherine Noyes, senior writer, Deloitte Insights for CIOs

Editor’s note: This article is part of a weeklong series of 5G-focused articles in Deloitte Insights in The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal.

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