Getting Off to a Strong, Sure Start with 5G Business Solutions

The secret to 5G success? Start planning now.

Some new technologies are evolutionary, others are revolutionary. 5G, the fifth-generation cellular standard, is both. Businesses can benefit immediately from 5G’s new and improved wireless capabilities, while also planning to drive innovation in the future with breakthrough new services.

Given 5G’s progressive nature, it makes sense to take a “crawl, walk, run” approach to adoption. Businesses can test 5G use cases by starting small, expand to bigger projects, and ultimately pursue bold, broad strategic initiatives over the longer term.

5G implementations can differ by industry—ranging from factory floor automation in manufacturing to inventory tracking in retail. But the business imperatives for choosing 5G are the same across industries: the need for greater speed; much lower latency for improved response times; increased bandwidth to support mission-critical operations; and higher reliability for overall business continuity.

This article, focusing on the early going—the “crawl” phase—is the first in a three-part series to help businesses deploy 5G on a timeline that makes sense for them.

The future is now: 5G nears the 1 billion subscriber mark.

The number of 5G users is quickly rising. In its Mobility Report1 for June 2022, the wireless network hardware provider Ericsson estimated that 1 billion users will have 5G subscriptions by the end of 2022.

More businesses and consumers are making the transition every day. In a 2022 T-Mobile for Business survey2 of 200 enterprise IT and network decision-makers whose companies have gotten started with 5G, all respondents made the move within the last two years. In fact, 83 percent of respondents had done so within the previous 12 months, underscoring the recency and rapidity of 5G adoption.

Public 5G services are now widely available, making 5G an excellent solution for remote locations and mobile applications. The T-Mobile 5G network now reaches 95 percent of users in the U.S.—and that footprint keeps expanding.

Why is 5G becoming so popular? Compared to earlier cellular technologies such as 4G, 5G offers more bandwidth, faster uploads and downloads, increased reliability, and support for more devices within a given physical area.

“We need the highest level of connectivity and the fastest networks,” said one IT professional in a third-party research focus group commissioned by T-Mobile for Business, explaining why their company turned to 5G. “There’s just a lot of users and interfaces to support.”

Public 5G services are now widely available, making 5G an excellent solution for remote locations and mobile applications. The T-Mobile 5G network now reaches 95 percent of users in the U.S.—and that footprint keeps expanding.

Identifying 5G use cases, establishing objectives.

A well-conceived 5G implementation plan balances today’s growing demands for advanced wireless capabilities with a long-term vision for new efficiencies and other business opportunities.

The following steps will help get the process started:

  1. Identify use cases where 5G could add immediate business value.
  2. Create alignment between business units and IT/networking teams.
  3. Identify locations and users that would benefit from 5G services.
  4. Evaluate deployment options, including public 5G services and private 5G networks.
  5. Consider the skills needed and whether a fully-managed service, such as T-Mobile 5G Advanced Network Solutions, might help with 5G implementation.
  6. Establish objectives, a timeline, and milestones.

These best practices can help organizations begin the “crawl” phase of 5G quickly and successfully. Here’s a hypothetical situation that illustrates how this 6-step process would work in practice:

At a manufacturing facility, equipment breakdowns in the machining process cause costly delays. So, the manufacturer’s operations team works with the IT department to launch a pilot project that uses sensors connected by private 5G for predictive maintenance. After a successful four-month trial, company leaders decide to introduce this capability at the company’s other plants over the next 12 months. They will use analytics derived from sensor data to track improvements.

Why 5G? Why now?

Businesses adopt 5G for a variety of reasons. Some seek to give employees and customers a better mobile experience through 5G’s speed, capacity, and reliability. Others are building out network infrastructure in support of automation and operational efficiency.

Here are some of the ways that organizations across industries might get started with 5G: 

  • Retail - deploy computer vision at a single store to analyze and optimize in-store traffic patterns. 
  • Healthcare - apply 5G’s low latency and high reliability to enhance and advance telemedicine and remote monitoring.
  • Manufacturing - combine computer vision and AI to perform complex quality inspections in a fraction of the time required by humans.
  • Smart Cities - establish “smart intersections” that integrate automotive data with computer vision and AI.
  • Transportation and Logistics - install 5G-connected sensors to optimize workflow and processes at a single facility.
  • Automotive - use 5G to help guide prototype autonomous vehicles.

Determining where to begin often involves conversations between business managers and the IT and networking teams within an organization—as well as with technology partners with the products, services, and expertise to help identify opportunities and challenges. 

“If a customer is looking to improve their operational efficiency or reduce costs, T-Mobile can work side-by-side with them and identify potential use cases,” says David Chan, Director – Product Management at T-Mobile for Business. “Typically, it all starts with their pain points.”

Using innovation to leapfrog competitors.

In the 2022 T-Mobile for Business survey, the most common reason for using 5G, cited by 82 percent of respondents, was a need for greater reliability. That was followed by the pursuit of faster speeds (71 percent), process automation (67 percent), and data accessibility (66 percent).

Why was greater reliability at the top of the list? Because remote work and emerging applications such as virtual reality and virtual healthcare require extremely reliable connectivity. One of the IT professionals participating in a third-party focus group said their organization, with offices across the U.S., was “searching for something that would have more reliable speed and a more consistent signal.”

5G is viewed as an enabling technology by business managers pursuing digital transformation projects in areas such as customer experience and employee engagement. “For us, the most important factor was the innovation aspect,” said another focus group participant. “We knew that we had to jump ahead of our competitors and adopt 5G as early as possible.”

Because 5G is the first generation of cellular connectivity designed explicitly with business needs in mind, it’s increasingly being used in conjunction with other emerging technologies. In the 2022 T-Mobile for Business’s survey, 48 percent of respondents said they were using 5G with artificial intelligence, and 26 percent were using 5G with augmented reality.

Understanding 5G deployment options.

5G services are widely available over the public T-Mobile 5G network, through a tailored private 5G network, or a combination of public and private 5G—a hybrid architecture. A hybrid approach can often provide comprehensive services across the widest footprint. Factors that will determine the best solution include: the planned use case; a building’s location and design; and existing network infrastructure.

“Whether a business ultimately uses a public, private, or hybrid 5G architecture, our approach [with T-Mobile 5G ANS] is to start with a proof of concept—which we call realization of value,” says Chan. Initial 5G deployments tend to be limited in scope—for example, for a few months at a single location. Once the pilot project has been successfully completed, the deployment can be expanded to other parts of the complex and additional sites.

Laying the business groundwork.

Network and IT professionals are often the gatekeepers for network infrastructure and services. But it’s not unusual for line-of-business managers to spur the initial conversation to consider 5G.

Regardless of which team initiates a 5G exploration, it’s essential that business managers and IT teams collaborate on how and where to get started.

For example, here are a few questions that might be asked in a retail environment:

  • What technologies are already in use in retail stores?
  • Is there digital signage?
  • Are robots or other forms of automation already in use?
  • How many orders are picked and packed? 
  • How does the retailer track inventory?
  • Are the employees sufficiently trained? 
  • What pain points or opportunities need to be addressed?

This assessment might help a retail brand determine that the best starting point for a 5G test pilot would be heat-mapping customer traffic through one of its stores. A feasibility program would seek to generate insights into store layout, product displays, and where more retail associates might be needed. Once successful, the initiative can then be expanded.

Businesses in other sectors will have their own industry-specific questions to guide discussions and set priorities.

Thinking ahead to ‘walk’ and ‘run’.

5G pilot projects might last for three to six months, depending on scope. And even during this crawl phase, businesses can begin plotting the subsequent steps.

That may include assessing the physical readiness of buildings, factories, and campuses for installation of private 5G. For example, the requisite components for a private 5G wireless plan within a building include fiber optic cable, Category 6 wiring, conduit, and an adequate power supply.

And perhaps most crucially: It’s not always necessary for 5G use cases to be perfected before getting started with pilot projects and initial 5G rollouts, according to Jeff Holzinger, Senior Director – Site Development at T-Mobile for Business. That’s true even for teams like his own that are focused on operational excellence, he says.

Often, the best approach is to “start now, start small, and perfect over time,” Holzinger adds. The potential payoff of getting started right away is the ability to provide a better user experience or customer experience sooner than would have been possible otherwise.

Then, it’s time to begin planning for the walk and run phases of 5G. “There are a lot of applications and use cases going through the incubation period and being developed now,” says Holzinger. “Build for the future.”

For more on how to “crawl, walk, and run” with 5G in business, see:

WALK: Moving from 5G exploration to embracing use cases at scale
RUN: Accelerating innovation and strategic advantage with 5G

Ready to start building your 5G future?