5G technology *might* affect EUC, but don’t hold your breath for a revolution

Mobile carriers and others are all in on 5G technology, but how will that impact you now—and into the future?

There is a lot of focus right now around 5G, with most of it directed toward consumers. But, we wanted to take a look at how 5G could affect the enterprise end user computing industry, as some carriers start rolling it out.

Separating facts from marketing: Where 5G is at right now

Before diving into 5G use cases, it’s good to point out that 5G isn’t ready for primetime yet, no matter what we might see in commercials. We’re undergoing a similar moment to when 4G LTE was announced and when it came out—everything is a mess and nothing is quite clear.

Most of the confusion is due to carriers rolling out advertising around 5G, with tricky wording that makes it appear like users can access 5G now, which isn’t really true (not to say 5G isn’t available in extremely limited examples). AT&T decided to call 4G LTE “5G E” instead, with the E standing for “evolution.” They will call true 5G, “5G+” once it’s ready. Verizon claimed they were the first to mobile 5G, despite not actually having done so at the time.

5G is on the way, but the technology might result in early bulky phones (again like 4G LTE did). Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chip requires a separate 5G modem, plus multiple antenna modules to reduce the chance your hand will simply block the signal. (This article by Ron Amadeo is a good primer on what to expect device wise.)

Additionally, even if you have a 5G-capable device to take advantage of the speedier network, coverage areas will be extremely limited for a while. Right now, only a few select cities offer any 5G coverage and the results have been pretty poor.

5G in the EUC

So, yes, 5G isn’t ready yet and hopefully we’ll be able to overcome current 5G issues regarding signal and coverage. But there’s been so much hype around how 5G technology will be transformative, that we wanted to break down what we might actually experience once it’s ready for a wider rollout.

Fatter pipe
The main thing to expect is faster speeds. 4G LTE provides a peak 1Gbps download, with 5G expected to provide up to 20Gbps. Now, of course, real-world speeds will be slower for 5G (just like they are for 4G). But for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that 5G speeds will be significantly faster than 4G. In addition, we can also argue that 5G cellular connections will be faster than many of the mid and low-range tiers of service from domestic and business-oriented traditional (i.e., land-based, not cellular) ISPs.

So, these speeds sound great, especially as things like 4K resolution video becomes more available.

But often, the connection speed isn’t the limiting factor. For example, 4K only really needs 15-25Mbps, which a lot of people can manage already. Really, you’re more likely to get bogged down by things like slow-acting JavaScript. Face it—with even faster speeds, we probably will just see more website bloat.

In theory, higher speeds could make a lot of our apps function better, while at the same time opening up more use cases. For example, streaming all the time becomes more possible, or there’s less of a worry around having to putting client apps close to their data for optimal performance.

This could lead to more full-time VDI usage (even from laptop thin clients) which is something Brian suggested a few years back. Of course, VDI use cases have changed since his article, with more users getting by without needing a Windows desktop, not to mention the fact that better connectivity will also make Chromebooks that much better, too. (Modern management, unified endpoint management, and modern devices also make VDI a much tougher decision.)

5G won’t solve all our speed-related internet ailments. 5G really only impacts the last part of data’s journey, from towers to devices. While that might positively impact those living in a big city where cell connection can drop out due to tall buildings (and we’ll just assume for this that 5G connection issues are solved by people much smarter than me), those further out (where the backhaul could be slower) might not enjoy the same benefits.

If you’re working in an urban office, you probably already enjoy a fairly robust broadband speed, but 5G could provide another completive ISP option, or it could be your backup internet connection.

A low-band version of 5G is expected to boost speeds for rural areas and improve latency. So this could mean leapfrogging currently underwhelming rural broadband options, enabling new use cases for branch offices, teleworkers, and field workers.

More MVNO/zero-rating options
Will we see zero rating make a return? It’s been very controversial in the consumer market, as it's viewed as anti-competitive, but it could make a return for businesses, especially ones with BYOD users. For example, you could bundle a data plan for a specific app so that the employee’s company pays for data associated with the app’s use, and it doesn’t come out of anyone’s personal data plan.

Maybe Wi-Fi isn’t as much of a thing anymore
This is more of a future-looking aspect: With the availability of 5G, it could simplify how employees connects to the internet, whether they’re in an office or remote. Additionally, it removes the confusion around connecting employees and office guests to Wi-Fi at the office—everyone just uses 5G.

Security might improve with everyone using 5G, as public Wi-Fi usage could potentially decline. With a reduced reliance on Wi-Fi, some mobile security issues could go away almost entirely. Users would be less likely to connect to coffee shop or other public Wi-Fi with 5G available. Doing so reduces the opportunity bad actors have for Man-in-the-Middle attacks over unencrypted Wi-Fi connections.

All that said, I’m not convinced Wi-Fi is going away any time soon. Wi-Fi 6 is coming and promises improved speeds and network capability. Instead, 5G will just make it more likely users will enjoy the speed Wi-Fi 6 provides.

What other industries benefit?
The industry many are looking at to get a boost from 5G technology is the Internet of Things, though mostly in cities (due to the shortcomings we’ve outlined above). The gig economy could receive a boost, especially for Uber/Lyft drivers and rapid-delivery services by making it easier to stay connected to the apps and reduce the likelihood that they have slower connection while working.

5G is exciting, but change won’t be immediate—it never is

5G has the promise to improve EUC, once it matures. However, things won’t suddenly change overnight and will require everyone involved to invest in new equipment, which means added costs to businesses and employees. Devices won’t just automatically work; they need to be capable of accepting the 5G signal. You will need 5G routers, antennas, and more. Plus, it’ll be the first generation of said tech, which is never optimized well. Later iterations will be better.

Other costs include paying more for the service. Right now, it’s an additional $10 per month for Verizon customers in Chicago and Minneapolis (two cities with any 5G coverage). Will it lessen in time? Internet carriers have never shown much altruism in providing fast speeds for a good price (plus will data caps go away?).

Given all the questions around 5G at the moment, I’m not sure I’m really convinced that it will transform the industry. The more we think about 5G, the less I get excited. That said, it’ll be interesting to see the adoption rate in the EUC once 5G is truly up and running, and if any other use cases pop up.