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Life in the
5G Fast Lane
WHY BUSINESSES ARE POISED TO BENEFIT MOST FROM HIGH-SPEED CONNEC TIVIT Y
Faster data and reduced latency. These are the things we know to expect
when 5G wireless technology starts rolling out over the first half of the
next decade. But just how fast? And how transformative will it be? Few
people know better than David Ward, CTO of engineering and chief
architect at Cisco, where he oversees the company’s many innovation programs,
from open-source strategies to academic research projects. Here, Ward reveals the
potential capabilities of 5G and the impact it will have on business. (Spoiler alert:
a very significant one.)
Can you explain, in basic terms, how 5G improves upon 4G?
5G uses millimeter waves, which typically have higher channel bandwidths, and
so can carry a lot more data bits. And by using special antenna arrays—with a relatively small profile—we now have the ability to dynamically focus bandwidth, or
“beamform,” on specific users, creating “beams” about the thickness of a pencil.
This capability alone is a game changer. And it really should be emphasized that,
while previous generations—that is, 2G through 4G—were about the consumer,
5G is about business to business.
How will enterprise customers benefit from 5G’s ultralow latency?
A lot will depend on net work architecture and edge computing. Much of this does
not exist today, but I can share some scenarios. A hospital will be able to aggregate
the sensors and monitors for every patient and connect all of that to form a real-time data center—and, thanks to guaranteed low latency, a patient recovering at
home could be connected to this center reliably.
On 4G, usable bandwidth is capped at 10,000 devices per square kilometer.
With 5G, the capacity is much higher. What will this expanded connectivity
mean for businesses?
This will transform how wireless is done indoors, where most business—from
manufacturing to retail—takes place.
Indoor cell coverage can be very spotty.
We’re going to really improve upon
that by integrating Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6,
indoor cell, and adding beamforming
5G access points. And by managing the
spectrum—and the greatly increased
density—with much greater efficiency
and cost savings, we get better coverage
and capacity indoors. Circling back to
B2B, we’re seeing other countries, like
Germany, set aside part of the spectrum
specifically for industrial use. With its
high density and low latency, 5G could
have a tremendous impact on Io T.
It sounds like many use cases for 5G
have yet to even be imagined.
That is true. Important components like
application architecture and edge-com-puting technologies do not exist
ubiquitously today. Take autonomous
vehicles. At some point, it seems we’ll
probably need a single-millisecond- or
sub-millisecond-latency device or service—but we haven’t seen it yet. Think
of 5G as a killer app for uses that don’t
In what ways is Cisco poised to help
business adopt this new technology?
One big way is through heterogeneous
networking—what we call HetNet.
This allows us to manage and operate
across indoor spectra—including
Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6, existing cell, as well as
5G—for an invisible and seamless end-user interaction. We’re also working on
improving roaming technologies that
will enable users to get on Wi-Fi or
Ethernet or cellular without having to
enter new passwords. As a value proposition, we can pass on cost reductions
due to our efforts in internet architecture and how we deploy different
services across different access technologies. Our goal at Cisco is: If you
want to attach it to the internet, we’re
going to make it as easy as possible.