When people talk about 5G, they talk about two things: latency and speed. Actually, three things: latency, speed and millimeter waves. Technical details that don’t really encapsulate the value that 5G can bring to the table for consumers and businesses. The last decade has borne witness to the benefits that 4G has added to our everyday lives: high voice quality, easy access internet and higher bandwidth has made the world seem smaller and our lives more interconnected.

Missing your dear old mum? You can FaceTime her in a jiffy and see what she’s up to. Got customers in countries where you don’t have a local presence? Buy a virtual phone number and provide local phone support, instead of forcing them to pay international rates to figure out how to reset their password. 5G promises to be bigger and better than ever before but before we delve into some of the probable benefits, let’s do a quick recap of these technicalities so that we’re all on the same page.

Let’s talk about speed first. 5G networks have been engineered to be really fast, much faster than its predecessor networks; thanks to networks operating with higher frequency bands and using millimeter waves and new technology for transmission. Unlike 4G, which requires large, high-power cell towers to radiate signals over longer distances, 5G wireless signals will be transmitted via large numbers of small cell stations located in places like light poles or building roofs.

This means, towers will be closer than you than they appear (sometimes right in front of you) and 5G network providers will be able to provide Internet access to homes…without any wires. Closer towers also means that the promised latency (round trip time between the server and device; lower latency means everything feels like real-time) is 1 ms or lower which should make everything feel instantaneous.

This is of course great news for urban areas (networks can get started right away!) but rural, not as well connected, areas might have to wait longer for the 5G rollout because a lot of cell stations will be necessary to make sure there’s optimal speed and latency, as opposed to its predecessor technology which just required one giant tower.

The small cell stations will also make use of millimeter waves aka the extremely high frequency band that necessitates (because of its short wavelength) closer towers. EHF is not commonly in use, used right now in radio astronomy, some security scanners and weapon systems, because of which there are some health concerns –  doctors are concerned that no one has tested the impact of these fast-moving 5G millimeter waves on the human body.

Actual health risks aside, I’m already anticipating the wave of WhatsApp forwards this will engender with some popcorn and a refreshing beverage.

So, there you have it – faster speed and lower latency, the two reasons for which 5G is lauded as the next big thing. 5G promises to push the envelope on connected devices and take it to the next level, beyond the IoT in our homes – the smart thermometers and fridges that update shopping lists when you run out of milk – to more commercial applications like with self-driving cars, healthcare, aviation and safety. Your doctor can monitor your progress even as you remain in the comfort of your home! Cars can become smarter and drive like humans! You can download a two hour movie in about 4 seconds!

When it comes to business communication, 5G will really make its presence felt in intra team communication and customer conversations.

Faster internet and more bandwidth means that offices can get more distributed; you no longer have to restrict your team to the most talented, hard-working individuals in your geographical location. Instead, you can hire people from all around the world and trust in 5G networks to keep you connected with each other through higher quality video, audio and even AR and VR (Facebook is sure to fork Horizon for workplaces). Seamless connectivity can make the distance between teammates feel like nothing.  This, of course, extends to customers as well. VoIP has already made offering customer service and sales support to customers incredibly easy; businesses no longer have to go through the trouble of setting up a call center complete with physical phones and a switch system to provide support. They can just purchase a call center software out of the box and a virtual phone number and be ready to roll. With 5G, customer support can move beyond VoIP and audio to become video support, like Amazon’s MayDay feature, or remote desktop support. Increased download speeds and delay-free video calls means that cloud telephony solutions can offer support capabilities so that every business can provide the kind of support that right now, only a $230 billion revenue business can provide.

A more connected world also means more competition for customers and bigger slices of pie. With 5G, businesses can expect more growth, more global reach, and also more competition. Customers won’t just be people in the neighbourhood showing support but also the competition won’t just be the mom and pop shop down the road. In fact, Qualcomm did a study that showed that many people believe that 5G will catapult mobile to become a ‘general purpose technology’ on a par with electricity and the modern automobile. Not only will this help in discovery of small businesses – users can easily explore their apps and services online – but more businesses will have the opportunity to modernize their offerings for the mobile era – businesses can use AR to help consumers visualize their offerings in their environment. For example, a furniture store could help consumers visualize how the piece they’re looking to buy will fit into their home.

But hold your horses – as exciting as all of this sounds, 5G is such a new concept that its applications remain largely in the realm of imagination. Network providers like Verizon, Huawei and AT&T are hurrying to try to turn this into a reality but it’s a long way to the picture marketers (hello!) are currently painting.

The reality is…Verizon has rolled out 5G in 11 cities but it doesn’t have a coverage map so customers are currently paying extra money ($10/mo) for a service they’re not sure where they can use. Sprint covers more area but the speed is lacklustre. In this Internet company eat Internet company world, telecom companies are even turning on each other – Sprint sued AT&T over its 5GE network claims (the case was that they were just offering 4G but with 5G marketing) and settled out of court. There’s also a political aspect to this – Huawei is currently the global leader in 5G technology but it’s widely suspected that their technology is a backdoor for the Chinese government so countries around the world are banning Huawei tech in their governments.

The confusion extends to handsets as well – only a few handsets support 5G – Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G, Huawei Mate X, Xiaomi Mi Mix 3, LG V50 Thin Q to name a few – which means if you live in a city with 5G, you still have to upgrade your phone. In fact, the maker of the most popular phone on the planet hasn’t even included 5G capability in their latest model, it’s that nascent. However, it’s never too soon to start planning for the future of mobility and transferring the heart of your business to the cloud – 5G might take some time to get to your locality but when it does, it will be worth the wait.

Aishwarya is a Content Marketer (Freshcaller) at Freshworks Inc. Freshworks provides innovative customer engagement software for businesses of all sizes, making it easy for teams to acquire, close, and keep their customers for life. Freshcaller is a modern-day reimagining of our everyday phone system for customer support, sales, IT, and HR teams. For more information, please visit: https://www.freshworks.com/freshcaller-cloud-pbx/

5G stock photo by Fit Ztudio/Shutterstock