5G is the talk of the town. It may be early days, but its transformational impact on almost every aspect of everyday life makes it necessary to sift the facts from the hype.

It was 31 years ago, in August 1988, when the mobile phone made its first call in Singapore. The city-state continues to trail-blaze today. 5G mobile networks are expected to enable next-frontier commercial applications by 2020.

There is no doubting that 5G is the talk of the town. The technology is rapidly developing beyond column inches and hashtags into real-world use cases.

While questions remain over a pseudo Cold War telecommunications race, the impending geopolitical battle between the United States and China, and the possible security challenge Huawei presents to 5G networks, one thing is irrefutable – the transformational impact 5G is directly and indirectly set to have on almost every element of everyday lives.

There is more than a kernel of truth in this rhetorical excess, primarily because the next generation of essential infrastructure in most countries around the globe will be built using wireless technology. It is still early days for 5G, but the race is heating up with US and Asia leading the charge for commercial launches. Singapore has set aside a hefty S$40 million to build an open, inclusive 5G ecosystem with an aim to metamorphosize the mobile network experience once again.

With as much as 100 times the speed of current wireless networks and great improvements in latency (the delay before a transfer of data begins after instruction), a whole new world of mobile use cases opens. Faster and more ubiquitous data connectivity will create new opportunities in diverse areas such as manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, education, agriculture, and more.

Early industry trials are already focused on process automation and drones to carry out menial tasks, while potential bespoke applications of Internet of Things (IoT), such as connected cars and traffic management in land-scarce Singapore, are grabbing local attention.

In short, 5G has a very real potential to enable industry 4.0 and support new services that will in-turn, drive economic growth and job creation for decades to come.

Uncovering the reality in the 5G hype

So far, a lot of the hype around 5G is based on the huge increases in pure mobile network speeds, such as enabling 8K screening, VR projections onto air with no lag-time and replacing traditional broadband models. Initial 5G deployments are not all that different from 4G, but the early hype is already giving way to criticism. Why then is 5G such a big deal?

Network slicing is probably the most important concept and differentiator to previous generations. This is the way in which 5G will be able to deliver different types of services with the appropriate latency, security, quality of service, and bandwidth.

3G & 4G networks already embody the concept of slicing in the form of virtual private networks (VPNs), to effectively create separation for the different types of services. However, with 5G, this is taken a stage further — in addition to hard slicing (for example, using wavelengths or multi-protocol label switching), soft slicing will be used throughout the access and core.

This allows for a super flexible, agile network, capable of supporting a whole range of use cases. It is this flexibility which links directly to the enablement of IoT, that people are getting so excited about.

Why 5G truly is the catalyst for IoT

Intel reports that an autonomous car will produce 4TB of data on an average day. In 2018, IDC found that tech companies made around 125 million smartwatches and other wearables, with a double-digit growth expected in the coming years. Meanwhile, Cisco anticipates that by next year IoT will comprise of more than 30 billion connected devices, which could create some five quintillion bytes of data every day too – a staggering amount of data that will need managing!

Offering a combination of big capacity and low latency, 5G will prove to be the true catalyst for IoT. With such vast amounts of data living at the edge of traditional computer networks, IoT will put new and unprecedented pressures upon organizations to manage, protect and use data efficiently.

The analysis and management of the corresponding data is where the true value of these connected technologies really lie. The key to get ahead of this future challenge is to ensure organizations have adequate data management strategies in place today.

Organizations can’t afford to ignore the transformational opportunities presented by 5G and IoT, but they must also understand the fundamentals of the technology building blocks (including data management), and associated regulatory requirements needed to make it work.

Only then will the full economic, societal and environmental benefits of 5G and IoT be truly realized.