How CIOs around the world are 5G future-proofing businesses

Even five years after the first 5G networks were deployed, enterprise adoption of these next-generation mobile networks has been slower than anticipated. There are a number of reasons for this, including cost implications, a lack of awareness around technical use cases and a C-Suite desire to maximise their 4G investments before upgrading.

Many of the enterprise 5G case studies we have seen so far have been low-profile, niche offerings that do not demonstrate the full capabilities the technology can now offer.

But with the technology now reaching a more mature stage of its development cycle, and adoption rising around the world, CIOs are seeing more innovative use cases and partnerships emerge as operators turn their attention to enterprises.

Nowhere is this more evident than in developed Asia-Pacific (APAC), where 5G connections have now hit the mass market in Australia (42% of total connections), Japan (47%) and South Korea (54%), bringing them on par with global leaders China (45%) and the US (59%).

It is also worth noting more broadly that, while the impact of 5G has materialised more slowly in Europe and North America, globally 5G has already provided 1.6 billion connections in just five years – something 4G took nine years to achieve.

There is reason for optimism as we look ahead. 5G is expected to reach five billion connections globally by 2030, representing over half (54%) of total mobile connections. And, as the technology becomes more efficient, affordable and scalable – reaching new mass markets such as India and Indonesia – the enterprise segment will continue to mature, with systems integrators, hyperscalers and enterprise developers unlocking new possibilities and use cases.

Unlocking new possibilities for the smart enterprise

The enterprise segment represents the main revenue growth driver for mobile network operators (MNOs) as they look to help industries digitally transform. To this end, private networks, 5G-Standalone (5G-SA) and 5G-Advanced will be pivotal.

While private networks are nothing new, having been deployed on Long-Term Evolution (LTE) spectrum for the past several years, deployments have previously been limited to more niche use cases that lack the capabilities 5G now offers. Although there is a perception that 5G adoption among enterprises has been slower than expected, it has to be understood that enterprise integration is more complex than simply adding a 5G consumer package.

Globally, 5G has already provided 1.6 billion connections in just five years – something 4G took nine years to achieve

But as businesses continue on their digital transformation journeys, and the capacity, latency and reliability of 5G bring new possibilities, strong demand for private 5G solutions is expected across industries including manufacturing, mining, transport, logistics, ports, healthcare, and media and entertainment, with deployments now forecast to generate $109.4bn globally by 2030.

Private 5G networks are particularly well suited to industrial premises, such as factories and warehouses, where the advantages of ultra-low latency, increased privacy and security, and the aggregation of high-bandwidth data make them suitable for a number of applications in modernising manufacturing lines.

For example, the technology’s low-latency, reliability and time synchronisation make private wireless networks suitable for managing fleets of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to inspect sites or carry light loads across production lines. Elsewhere, when combined with edge computing and artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML), 5G allows manufacturers to achieve the near real-time analysis of data coming from the digital twins used in the design, planning, training and debugging of manufacturing processes.

5G SA – networks that have been entirely upgraded with 5G technology, rather than relying on a combination of 4G LTE and 5G – will also likely be central to the development of enterprise 5G. While APAC currently leads the way on 5G SA adoption, with deployments in seven countries across the region, a range of new use cases will emerge as the rest of the world catches up and new functions become available, including massive machine-type communication (mMTC), network slicing and ultra-reliable, low-latency capabilities.

Looking ahead, the growing use of enterprise 5G will also be facilitated as technological developments unlock new applications, and the emergence of 5G-Advanced bring a new wave of wireless innovations to the fore.

With the first major wave of deployments set for 2026, 5G-Advanced capabilities promise to transform every aspect of the services MNOs provide for their customers. 5G-Advanced is designed to strengthen the 5G system foundation by improving speed, global coverage, mobility and power efficiency, while also supporting new use cases through customisation.

The technology will serve a wide variety of industries, each with different ecosystems, needs and regulatory environments. For example, in the public transport domain, 5G-Advanced will address high-speed connectivity use cases and ensure the user experience is not affected by their velocity when travelling on a high-speed train or plane. Elsewhere, the high data rates, low latencies and seamless mobility of 5G-Advanced will provide seamless support for highly immersive and interactive applications, such as the use of augmented or extended reality for training, education or entertainment purposes.

With 5G monetisation remaining a top priority for operators, hyperscalers and enterprises alike, we can also expect to see new industry frameworks, such as the GSMA Open Gateway initiative, accelerate the number of new 5G enterprise use cases in 2024, as developers gain more easy access network application programming interfaces (APIs).

Operators representing two-thirds of global mobile connections have started launching commercial APIs as part of the initiative in Europe, Asia and South America. These will open the door to an array of new services and innovations, including edge site selection and routing to support autonomous vehicles and verify location for fleet management and incident reporting, and SIM swap to combat financial crime and quality-on-demand for drones, robotics, extended reality and immersive online gaming.

Spotlight on 5G pioneers

While there is a tendency to talk about enterprise 5G deployments as something still to come – particularly in the UK, Europe and developing markets – a number of successful deployments across APAC’s pioneer markets offer valuable insights into the efficiencies gained and lessons learned, of which CIOs in other regions should take heed.

Many leading examples can be found in China, starting with the innovative approach to 5G-integrated public transport in Guangzhou. As the third largest metropolitan area in China, with a population of around 20 million, the city’s transportation infrastructure needed modernising – a process which began in 2020 in collaboration with China Mobile and ZTE. Guangzhou now has a 5G Smart Metro, 5G Smart Railway and 5G Smart Bus and Road Management system, improving operational efficiency and safety, especially at peak times where real-time monitoring can help with capacity planning, as well as pre-emptive maintenance and repair requirements.

The large bandwidth, reliability, and low latency of 5G has proven transformative, spanning the entire transportation ecosystem, while also offering passengers wireless gigabit internet anytime and anywhere – even on a metro train moving at 160km/h, download speeds of 600Mbps are available.

In South Korea, aNAVER Cloud devised a private 5G solution to enable a fleet of “brainless” robots to function as assistants to staff in its labs, with the “brain” elements of information and decision-making all held centrally in the cloud. This innovative approach enhances the performance of the robot by removing the need for computing power or sensors on each device, while the network functionality facilitates the large-scale production and operation of the robots, in turn reducing costs compared with regular robots.

Another example can be found with Thai auto part manufacturer Somboon Advance Technology. The efficiency of the company’s production line had previously been hindered by time-intensive and manual processes, such as the physical handling of camshafts, driving of forklifts for product consignment, manual stacking of materials and a paper-based inventory system.

To counter these challenges, however, Somboon Advantage Technology integrated industrial robots tasked with handling camshafts, 5G-enabled AGVs to transport products, and an automated storage and retrieval system to better manage the company’s inventory. In doing so, the earning rate of the factory has been amplified by 60% and operating costs cut by 30%, while also leading to a safer working environment for employees by removing the need for the manual handling and transportation of parts.

While many of the most innovative applications of enterprise 5G have come out of APAC, the reality is 5G accounted for just 4% of the region’s mobile connections in 2022 – a figure which is set to rise 10-fold by 2030, when 5G will account for 41% of regional mobile connections.

With 5G anticipated to add more than $133bn to the APAC economy by 2030, the region’s trajectory is one of continuous advancement, and the industry looks forward to the further growth of the enterprise segment in diverse sectors and new markets – including India, which added tens of millions of 5G connections in 2023 alone.

Learnings for successful deployments

Reflecting on the pioneering use cases seen throughout APAC, a key learning has been the importance for businesses to build a strong, collaborative ecosystem as an integral part of project development. Looking ahead, CIOs across global organisations should work to secure support from all stakeholders to facilitate the adoption of 5G within the business.

The planning and development of a 5G network is a complex and intricate process, and one size will not fit all

Not only this, but finding the right partner to suit their needs will be one of the most critical decisions a CIO can make when starting their enterprise’s 5G journey – the planning and development of a 5G network is a complex and intricate process, and one size will not fit all. They should identify a partner that completely understands what their organisation is trying to achieve, with the aim to co-create a bespoke solution that fits the needs of the entire organisation; a partner that can provide ongoing support to guarantee the most value is derived from their network, and that it continues to be used properly.

The roll-out of 5G across developed APAC serves as an essential guide to understanding the symbiotic relationship between a strong 5G network and the success of 5G applications, but the reality is businesses cannot go it alone. To this end, supportive government policies in other markets will be pivotal to establishing the policy landscape for effective deployments and catering to the needs of both consumers and enterprises – including investment in research and development, the formulation of conducive regulatory frameworks and the financing of essential infrastructure.

Widespread adoption is a matter of when, not if

While there is a perception among many that the benefits of 5G – particularly for enterprises – have not come to fruition, the bottom line is that 5G is still a relatively new technology that is still taking off across much of the world.

But what is certain is that widespread adoption is coming. The roll-out and uptake of 5G has been faster than that of any previous mobile network generation thanks to the ecosystem getting behind it, and the technology is now on course to serve two billion people by the end of 2025. As we look to 2030, it is likely that today’s 5G markets will bear little resemblance to those of tomorrow as adoption continues in many of the world’s largest markets and new use cases are made possible with the availability of 5G SA and 5G-Advanced.

Pioneers have shown that successful enterprise deployments are making all the difference to their business, driving tangible improvements to operational efficiencies, and helping to create safer and more secure working environments. To this end, CIOs must work to lay the foundations – both technical and cultural – across their businesses to make the transition to 5G as seamless as possible when the time comes.

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