We’re on the cusp of one of the biggest revolutions in mobility since the dawn of the smartphone.

Even if you don’t work in tech, you’ve probably heard the growing buzz around 5G. In late 2018, our partners at Verizon were the first to launch a commercial 5G network, and mobile carriers have been rapidly scaling up to launch 5G in select cities. The technology should start becoming more available to the masses throughout 2020, as smartphone manufacturers continue to launch new 5G-enabled devices.

So what exactly is all the hype about 5G? When the term pops up, notions like rapid internet speeds likely come to mind—even if you don’t know much about 5G beyond headlines and hearsay.

Yes, 5G is expected to dramatically improve internet speeds and network reliability, as well as reduce latency, provide greater network capacity, and even extend device battery life. The list of possibilities goes on and on.

But the biggest misconception of 5G right now is that it’s merely a faster evolution of 4G. We need to instead start thinking about 5G as a new, transformative technology that will enable new applications and revolutionize the way mobility is used in business.

And now is the perfect time for businesses to familiarize themselves with 5G and start preparing for the challenges and opportunities it will bring.

Why 5G, why now?

The obvious upside of 5G for businesses is the potential for improved productivity. Over time, faster communications and lower latencies will enable more efficient operations, which will ultimately impact profits.

But 5G is not a high-speed silver bullet that will automatically improve your business just because you’ve implemented it. Like with any investment in new technology, it will require careful, detailed planning to determine how 5G could be used most effectively to improve various facets of your business.

5G beyond speed

To understand the bigger picture, you need to think beyond what ultra-fast cellular speed sounds like in its most basic form, which is that everything you do on your smartphone today will run a lot faster and smoother once you have 5G. Businesses should instead be asking themselves, “What else can we do with 5G?”

The healthcare sector is frequently used as an example for the transformative powers of 5G. Remote procedures and robotic surgeries are expected to reach futuristic levels as the technology becomes actualized, but so are hospital administrations, patient applications and medical data management.

A key advantage of 5G from a productivity standpoint will be its enablement of easier access to corporate applications and data hosted in the cloud. This will manifest itself in different ways across different industries. But across the board, we will see new types of cloud applications as well as advanced evolutions of existing ones, with 5G’s low-to-zero latency enabling seamless data streaming.

5G will also foster greater remote working capabilities. According to a 2017 survey by Gallup, the number of people in the U.S. working remotely four or five days a week rose from 24% in 2012 to 31% in 2016. A 2018 study by Zug found that 70% of professionals globally work remotely at least one day a week, while 53% work remotely at least half the week.

While shifting business cultures have certainly facilitated this growth in remote working, 5G will eliminate many of the technical barriers that currently make remote working difficult for some businesses and employees.


The concerns

As businesses start to consider how they will implement 5G, it’s important that they adopt this new technology strategically.

As a mobile security company, we’ve heard numerous concerns from our customers about the usage and security risks associated with 5G. Before deciding upon an approach to 5G, it’s crucial to gain a clear understanding of these concerns.

Concern: ‘How much is 5G data going to cost?’

In short, no one knows for sure yet.

A common initial reaction to 5G is that the cost of data will skyrocket along with the speed of data and the amount of data used. There is also the up-front cost of new devices, since existing mobile chips in 4G-enabled devices are incompatible with 5G signals. But this is a secondary concern from a cost perspective.

The primary concern for enterprises is data, and the consensus is that data costs will indeed rise—but there’s more to the story.

In recent years, the price per gigabyte of 4G data in the U.S. has dropped considerably, reaching $3.33 per GB at the end of 2017, according to a 2017 study by Recon Analytics, down from over $11 per GB only three years prior.

On the other hand, wireless data usage has risen considerably in recent years, up from 1.7 billion MBs in 2006 (in the 3G era) to 13.7 trillion MBs in 2016 according to the same Recon Analytics study.

To summarize, we’re spending less on data than we were a decade ago, but using a lot more of it.

Today, Wi-Fi accounts for 73% of mobile data consumption on corporate devices versus 27% over cellular. But as cellular speeds and network reliability improve dramatically with the adoption of 5G, we could very well see cellular data consumption take up a larger share.

Mobile carriers are investing billions in infrastructure and software updates to support 5G. Without getting into the intricacies of installing new fiber-optic lines and other technical requirements, let’s just say setting up a 5G network is not as simple as flipping a switch.

These investments will certainly factor into pricing models as 5G is rolled out, though it remains to be seen how those pricing models will look.

The key takeaway here is that the introduction of 5G will likely result in higher data usage and higher data costs, although the latter will probably level out somewhat over time.


Concern: ‘Faster 5G speeds will lead to excessive non-business data use’

With cellular data consumption, it’s important to consider not only the amount of data used, but the types of data used. With the rise of streaming and more businesses allowing personal use on corporate-owned devices, data overages for non-work-related internet use have risen substantially in recent years.

Today, 50% of corporate data usage on mobile devices is not business critical, and this results in high costs and lost productivity. Add ultra-fast 5G speeds to the mix, and it’s easy to predict the outcome.

Video streaming is a high personal-use category, in terms of both the heavy amounts of data processed in the activity and in its prevalence among corporate mobile users. For example, watching a video in 4K resolution on Netflix can eat up to 7 GB per hour, which is more than double the amount of data used per hour when streaming in 1080p. How much more data will be used within a one-hour period when 8K resolution can inevitably be streamed through 5G? What about streaming virtual and augmented reality in heightened quality?

It’s critical for businesses to implement and enforce acceptable use policies for corporate-owned mobile devices—not only to help control costs, but to ensure that productivity does not fall by the wayside as it becomes easier than ever for users to get distracted by personal activity.

Concern: ‘5G will open our business to more security risks’

The security risks that exist for mobile devices today will remain problems in the 5G era. Mobile phishing continues to grow at an alarming rate (57% of organizations have experienced a mobile phishing incident), while mobile malware is growing more aggressive to circumvent security developments in each update of the iOS and Android operating systems. New mobile cyber threats are being uncovered all the time, and they won’t be limited to devices running on 4G.

In terms of new security risks associated with 5G, the enablement of easier access to corporate applications and data hosted in the cloud will bring some complications.

Even now in the ‘pre-5G’ era, corporate data and applications have largely moved to the cloud. According to IDC, 73% of organizations have at least one application in the cloud, and 42% of organizations are using multiple cloud vendors. In the 5G era, our dependence on cloud services will only rise.

Traditional network security models are based on the ‘castle-and-moat’ concept. This approach makes it difficult to access files and applications from outside of a network, but generally grants automatic access to resources for anyone within the network.

With data and applications moving to the cloud, it’s critical for organizations to adopt a Zero-Trust Network Access model to mitigate their risk exposures and prevent data breaches. Under this model, no user or device is granted access to resources on the network without verification—all attempted connections to corporate applications are vetted based on the user’s identity and device’s security status.

Preparing your business for 5G

5G will start becoming more available to the masses in 2020, as network coverage expands and new compatible devices hit the market.

Wandera’s solutions are already prepared for the 5G environment, providing unparalleled protection against the expanding range of mobile cyber threats and usage risks.

To help get your business ready, here are our top five suggestions to prepare you for 5G.

  • Implement a Zero-Trust Network Access security model to protect data in the forthcoming cloud-first environment.
  • Review your cloud services strategy. What applications are you using today? What applications are you likely to adopt in the near future?
  • Utilize a Mobile Threat Defense solution to protect your endpoints and your network against the growing range of mobile cyber attacks.
  • Set an acceptable use policy to define what behavior is allowed on corporate devices to foster productivity and mitigate legal exposure.
  • Take the reins on your data costs by gaining a clear picture of how your employees are using cellular data to identify where you can set caps on high usage categories such as streaming, roaming or tethering.