The Future of...

The Future of 5G: What Will the Impact Be?

Simon Lockington
The Future of 5G: What Will the Impact Be?

If there is one thing living in this accelerating digital world has taught us it is that speed is everything. Innovation in global data transmission speeds has transformed our daily lives – how we get news and information, access products and services, manage our healthcare and finances, and tap into the power of the endless activities that go on behind the scenes to make it all happen. Without high-speed mobile/wireless technologies such as 4G LTE, transformational technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and real-time analytics that require the fast transmission of tons of data would not be possible.

5G networks are expected to be at least 100 times faster than current 4G networks and cut latency to less than one-thousandth of a second. The Consumer Technology Association notes that at this speed, you could download a two-hour movie in just 3.6 seconds, versus 6 minutes on 4G or 26 hours on 3G.[i] 5G promises a world of new opportunity to individuals and businesses, but it can’t be realized without massive changes to business models, regulations and how IT infrastructures get deployed.

Jyrki Katainen, Vice President at the European Commission, recently told a Brussels forum: “The digital revolution is picking up speed and we have to be ready to exploit the opportunities it will bring…we are now entering the critical phase where connectivity and AI will permeate all areas of the physical world with profound economic and social effects.” [ii]

Faster, lower-latency 5G network infrastructures will be a huge boost to IoT, AI, online gaming, virtual/augmented reality, and smart cities – not to mention, other markets trying to break into the mainstream, such as quantum computing. But before any of this can see the light of day, many regulatory, spectrum licensing, security and infrastructure retrofitting issues that currently exist must be resolved on a country-by-country basis. One critical barrier to overcome is the distance limitations inherent in 5G technology that will require proximate placement and interconnection between larger numbers of 5G network nodes.

You can go fast, but you can’t go far

While 5G’s millimeter-wave spectrum offers faster speeds, it cannot cover big geographic areas. New small cell infrastructure deployments will be required in both urban and rural areas. One way to address this geographic limitation is network densification, which increases the number of 5G cells to deliver greater traffic capacity per square meter. By increasing the number of network nodes in a geographic location, you can allow for the shorter distance between a 5G base and terminal needed for higher data rates and lower latency. For example, according to an article in The Telecom TIMES, implementing 5G through densification requires a network with small cells estimated between 200 to 1000 feet in distance, requiring approximately 8 miles of fiber per square mile to connect the small cells. In just the U.S., this could mean that 5G networking will need 1.4 million miles of fiber cable network.”[iii]

To achieve these infrastructure modifications for 5G, telecommunications carriers and mobile operators must be ready to make significant capital investments to update their current communications infrastructures. These network service providers (NSPs) will also need to anticipate how increasingly difficult it will be to deliver these new services out of their own data centers. To make end-to-end 5G communications work as intended, they will need to leverage geographically distributed colocation and interconnection providers who can deliver the global coverage and proximate access to partner and customer ecosystems required for digital business success.

Service providers and enterprises will need to look at distributed IT and network infrastructures that place 5G at the digital edge – close to commerce, population centers and digital ecosystems of network and cloud service providers. Proximity to a variety of 5G NSPs in regional metros gives small-to-medium service providers and enterprises the ability to lease 5G networks as a service. This provides companies that may not have the resources to make the transition to 5G themselves access to larger 5G NSPs[iv] via local high-speed, low-latency connections. New 5G services also make it possible to accelerate the transition from Internet Protocol v4 to v6 and integrate latency-sensitive technologies such as blockchain. 5G, IPv6 and blockchain will all play a critical role in supporting IoT platforms, especially in industries that are heavily dependent on M2M communications and logistics, such as manufacturing and transportation.

Securing greater amounts of data generated via 5G

Faster speeds and higher capacity networks invite more data to be exchanged over a wider area by more distributed devices. Cisco estimates that by 2022, 12% of global mobile traffic will be on 5G cellular connectivity and the average 5G connection will generate 21 GB of traffic per month globally.[v] This places additional pressures on IT infrastructure capacity and ability to secure data traffic at the same rate of acceleration that 5G networks are passing it in and out of global data centers.

Higher bandwidth and throughput from 5G can make DDoS attacks more prevalent by enabling faster, data-dense attacks. Troubleshooting will also more difficult for administrators with more devices and endpoints at the edge, further from centralized data centers. Cybersecurity concerns will require administrators to place security policies and controls local to data sources to stop attacks at the first point of entry. Cloud-based security services from Equinix partners such as F5 DDoS protection and HSM as a service have become critical defense mechanisms against cyber-attacks enabled by more edge devices creating greater amounts of data faster than ever before.

Preparing the way for 5G and beyond

We expect 5G deployments to start rolling out in earnest this year around the world. Many of the leading 5G carriers and providers (British Telecommunications, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Level 3 Communications, Samsung SDS, Telstra and Verizon) around the world already make their home in Equinix and can be readily accessed by other service providers and enterprises via high-performance, low-latency private interconnection on Platform Equinix.

We recently announced the expansion of our global footprint to South Korea with our new IBX data center in Seoul, scheduled to open in Q3 2019. This coincides with South Korea impending nationwide launch of 5G networks this year. South Korea became the first nation in Asia to kickoff commercial 5G networks for enterprises only after three carriers, Korea Telecom, LG UPlus, and SK Telecom, switched on services at midnight on December 1, 2018.[vi] Last month, at the Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung showcased its 5G mobile hotspot and is expected to announce its first 5G mobile phone this month at the Mobile World Congress, with initial availability in South Korea and the U.S.[vii]

“As one of the most innovative and technologically advanced countries in the world, South Korea is forging ahead in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said Kei Furuta, Managing Director at Equinix North Asia. “The rapid digital transformation taking place across businesses and industries will soon be underpinned by next-generation technologies such as 5G and AI, that require data centers that are flexible and agile to keep up. We look forward to working with Samsung SDS, a competitive cloud service provider with a strong foothold in this market, to play a key role in supporting South Korea in sustaining its technology and industrial leadership on the global stage.”

Looking ahead, even as 5G rolls out, the buzz about 6G is starting up. Though 6G is still in the research and development phase, promises of higher connectivity speeds, ultra-dense cell networks and millimeter waves for user access are exciting in an industry where speed is everything. In addition, the intelligent networking expected in 6G, driven by software-defined radio and software-defined networking, means that upgrading to future 6G technologies will be easier than the transition from 4G to 5G. However, according to Michael Beesley, vice president and CTO of Cisco’s Service Provider Networking business, in an interview ZDNet at CES 2019, “The 6G topic is an interesting one; from a technological innovation development point of view, it’s still very much in basic research. It’s a long, long, long way away.” Beesley, predicts 6G will take around 15 to 20 years to reach peak scale deployment, given that the world has only just passed that tipping point for 4G.[viii]

To learn how network service providers can leverage Interconnection Oriented Architecture™ (IOA™) best practices on Platform Equinix to roll out new products and services to their customers, read the Network Service Providers Digital Edge Playbook.


[i] How-To Geek, “What Is 5G, and How Fast Will It Be?,” by Chris Hoffman, 2019.

[ii] PTC Organization, “5G Meets the Real World,” by Stephen McClelland, 2018.

[iii] The Telecom Times, “How to #Network #Densification and How It Enables #5G,” by Rohn, 2018.

[iv] Netmanias, “5G: Network as a Service,” by Nikhil Vyakaranam & Dilip Krishna S, 2018.

[v] Cisco, “Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast and Trends, 2017 – 2022”, 2018.

[vi] SDX Central, “South Korea Launches 5G, But Only for Enterprise Users Initially,” 2018.

[vii] Mobile Syrup, “Samsung’s 5G phone will only be available in U.S. and South Korea,” 2018.

[vii] ZDNet, “CES 2019: Cisco talks 6G,” 2018.


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Simon Lockington Senior Director, Solutions Architects - APAC
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