5G’s hype train has well and truly departed—but is the railway headed for success or a big cliff? Efforts on the federal level seem to be picking up steam, which should assure businesses that any investments toward 5G wouldn’t be a dead end. In fact, this is as clear a call as any for businesses to begin re-examining their own networks for infrastructure bottlenecks that might hold back the upgrades which 5G demands.
Next Station: The Virtual Network
Every conversation about 5G centres around several catchphrases. The most common, “Internet of Things,” envisions millions of sensory and mobile devices linked seamlessly and managed effortlessly over a low-latency 5G network. Then there’s “Network Slicing,” a feature unique to 5G that theoretically is able to split the wider network into smaller, dedicated ones to handle huge data loads. And lastly, the much-touted boost to bandwidth speeds—10 gigabytes per second at best—with incredibly low latency that should help make things like telepresence, real-time data crunching, and even autonomous vehicles into the new normal. Or so they say.
But all of this will demand major upgrades to our current infrastructure. Much of 5G networking is done virtually—what makes network slicing possible—but this also poses challenges for legacy systems provisioned before 4G LTE. In response, IT leaders may want to consider greater use of SDN or SDS solutions, which can help to both streamline current network operations while preparing for 5G adoption. Higher levels of network virtualisation will most likely form the foundation of any “network slicing” anyway, something IT leaders can use to encourage board-level support of these investments—without it, widespread automation and AI adoption will be difficult for even the most adept businesses to pull off.
Overcoming the Tyranny of Distance
Another issue that emerges in efforts to modernise networks is Australia’s geography. The high-powered, narrow spectrum of 5G doesn’t necessarily play well with the country’s wide-open spaces; its main deployments will likely focus on dense urban areas, with their millions of connections, before slowly snaking out to the suburbs or fringe towns. Businesses could take inspiration from this and architect their own private 5G networks, which would primarily focus on business areas—like logistics or customer support—where data volumes and velocities reach heightened levels.
Adopting this approach allows businesses to deliver stability and speed where it truly matters, while keeping costs relatively controlled. That’s particularly true for industries working in physically remote areas, like mining or logistics, where technologies like the Internet of Things and industrial automation can have the most impact on operational performance. These smaller-scale pilots will also help IT leaders conduct an honest assessment of 5G; and critically evaluate the value and efficiencies it really brings to the business. Then, when businesses are convinced—and confident— they can begin laying down the digital tracks to connect these initial deployments with the rest of the business.
A “start small, grow fast” approach to 5G infrastructure could give early adopters a valuable head start in 5G. But more crucially, it allows their IT teams to gradually come to terms with any changes in the network. Network engineers and NetAdmins will gain greater familiarity on how to map their future networks; and judge when to deploy monitoring solutions, such as cloud-based SDN monitoring platforms, to oversee the growth of their 5G deployments.
The Nuts and Bolts of the Operation
Privatising their network gives businesses additional interoperability and scalability, even as their 5G networks continue to mature. But all this also comes with a cost: manpower and expertise needed to keep the network in tip-top condition. The right tools and mindsets will help, but more important is the upskilling of existing IT professionals and engineers to handle the challenges of a software-defined, virtualised 5G network. And these efforts need to begin early, because Australia is already struggling to field the number of experts needed to match its high-speed vision.
If even the federal government is struggling, what chances do private businesses have? As it turns out, quite a fair one, especially if they have an ecosystem of global network partners or vendors to tap into. Most of these partners are already well-versed with 5G developments, having designed and prepared their offerings in anticipation. They should be able to help IT teams gain clearer expectations of the challenges on the horizon, and co-design solutions that will creatively and innovatively overcome those challenges.
A series of long, consistent, and deliberate actions is what it takes to build a railroad. As the world continues to push forward with 5G, Australian businesses also need to make their in-road transition into 5G-ready network infrastructure. All it takes is to start early, and take calculated and deliberate steps across the entire network, favouring smaller pilots and incremental improvements over much riskier “big bet” investments. That’s how you conquer the Badlands.