While COVID-19 has been responsible for a significant increase in data traffic as more work is moved to people’s homes, 5G has proven to have many benefits beyond being the next generation for consumer mobile broadband. Several new use cases enabled by 5G deployments have been of great help to enterprises during this global pandemic and will help spur deployments, finds global tech market advisory firm, ABI Research.
As the spread of COVID-19 continues, more than 1 billion people worldwide are in either full or partial lockdown, confined to their homes as governments are trying to moderate the spread of the virus. During this difficult time, all telco network operators report increases of 30%-40% in all kinds of traffic, both fixed and mobile. “It seems that, so far, telco networks are coping, and the overprovisioning measures operators have been deploying their networks are paying off. User-perceived speed and user experience may have dropped, but networks are still operating at an acceptable level,” explains Dimitris Mavrakis, Research Director at ABI Research.
However, lower overall consumer confidence, potential supply chain disruptions, and potential migration of mobile broadband traffic to fixed broadband in busy urban locations will mean that the deployment of 5G for consumer use cases will slow down. ABI Research forecasts that 5G network Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) will likely suffer a 10% decline during 2020, but this will be accounted for later in 2020 and 2021, when operators will increase spending to make up for this delay. ABI Research also expects that the heavy effects of the crisis will subside in June 2020, after which the world will slowly start to go back to its natural routines.
“On the other hand, 5G in China is illustrating new use cases that provide true benefits to enterprise,” Mavrakis points out. China has already illustrated that 5G has been used as a key technology in new hospitals and, in a way, fulfilling network requirements that no other technology can. For example, China Mobile deployed 5G in Wuhan’s Huoshenshan hospital that was rapidly built to handle the outbreak. “The operator claims that the network was completed in a matter of 3 days, including network planning, a site survey, design, fiber installation for backhaul, and base station deployment and commissioning. The 5G network provided high-speed reliable connectivity for healthcare staff to perform their duties and enabled new use cases, such as data collection, remote diagnosis, and remote monitoring,” says Mavrakis. Another use case is AIS in Thailand, which connected hospitals with 5G and is even trialing 5G-connected robots for treating patients.
At the very least, 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) can now enable rapid deployment of broadband connections for new hospitals, as well as reinforce broadband network capabilities for existing hospitals. “Moreover, these connections can provide the foundation for advanced services, such as remote diagnosis, out-patient handling, and primary care. In addition, the combination of advanced data collection and Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms will play an important role, especially in the more technically complex, edge device-centric use cases,” Mavrakis explains. The low-latency and high-throughput characteristics of 5G will help enhance data acquisition, model updates, and device prediction accuracy and reliability.
“The use of 5G during the pandemic has illustrated that the new technology can provide tangible benefits to many enterprise verticals, the most important of which are healthcare and public safety services. The early use cases will prove to several enterprise verticals that 5G can rapidly provide connectivity to new areas and enable use cases that were previously not possible. For example, 5G can provide new use cases such as remote temperature checking, constant communication for first responders, patient transfer, out-patient clinics and temporary hospitals, and repurposing networks,” says Mavrakis.
ABI Research expects that 5G enterprise applications will accelerate, starting with Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), which will provide a foundation for network slicing, reliable networking, and much more. “The spread of COVID-19 has indeed been a global challenge, but it has also been a platform for illustrating that 5G has been designed to be much more than just a consumer-focused mobile broadband network,” Mavrakis concludes.
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