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December 18, 2019 1:30 PM, EST

Perspective: Looking Forward With 5G

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The technology elephant in the room for warehouse operators is 5G wireless technology; specifically, whether it’s worthwhile for the sector to convert from existing 4G systems.

In a nutshell, 5G is the fifth generation of mobile wireless systems, and there are multiple features that represent an improvement from prior generations. They include faster speeds, better reliability and the ability to support a higher number of connected devices.

While most transportation and logistics companies are currently operating on 4G, some warehouse operations are either still getting by with 3G or are just now transitioning from 3G to 4G. For all of them, the answer to the question of whether it’s worthwhile to convert to a 5G mobility solution is — probably not. For now.

Mike Maris

Maris

However, it probably is wise to adopt a “future-ready” mindset with 5G on your radar, because the technology will eventually be mission critical for warehouse operations.

Use Cases for 5G

5G will provide a high-speed, highly reliable and secure broadband experience for corporations and consumers that can co-exist with 4G and alternative network technologies.

Enhanced mobile broadband — essentially an upgrade to the systems we use now — is being targeted as a high priority for early deployments of 5G. It will bring increased performance, functionality and efficiency. It could reliably support high-definition video and immersive communication such as augmented and virtual reality without buffering or lagging — super-imposing what you’re seeing through glasses or a device, which could transform training and industrial applications.

In addition, speed and reliability will be better with 5G than with earlier technologies. As companies generate growing volumes of data, 5G wireless networks will provide the computing power companies need to process information in real time. This is particularly good for uses like tracking trucks as they move and deliveries as they are completed.

And the next phase is Internet of Things applications — through which a system of devices are connected within a business. This could mean autonomous, remote production control in, for example, manufacturing and warehousing, with automated robots, forklifts, mobile computers and printers all interacting to track items and provide directions. All of this will require greater bandwidth, speed and power, and that’s where 5G could play a part.

Factories and warehouses that implement 5G will be able to provide dedicated services within their own private networks. On-device artificial intelligence will have the power to enhance workforce productivity and efficiency through machine learning algorithms — the process in which a machine can learn on its own without being explicitly programmed. It’s an application of AI that provides the system the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience.

5G Moving Forward

Future networks will rely on mainstream and alternative technologies to deliver better quality while staying cost-effective. As 5G evolves, it will be able to support diverse services and give businesses more ability to customize their systems, with the scalability to address different business requirements. The result is faster speeds for advanced communications throughout an organization.

Cost is one of the greatest immediate factors in 5G adoption. Is it worth it to invest in 5G mobility solutions? Companies may have only just updated to 4G mobile devices and wonder whether they will work on 5G networks. And, if so, how well?

Fortunately, the 5G business model is based off the success of 4G — aiming to provide good quality mobile broadband. So, early 5G device adopters will be able to access the superior capabilities 5G has to offer but may still need to rely on 4G network connections to complete calls or transmit data, similar to how devices occasionally used 3G as a fallback option when 4G networks were being expanded. It’s very likely that both 4G and 5G technologies will be necessary in this coming era.

5G is still in its infancy and commercial 5G networks aren’t expected to be widely deployed until after 2020 (with private industrial 5G networks possibly taking even longer) according to mobile industry authority GSMA. But the more you prepare for its wider deployment, the better suited you’ll be to adapt when the time comes.

Mike Maris is the director of transportation and logistics at Zebra Technologies, where he is responsible for overseeing a team that helps Zebra’s customers achieve greater operational efficiencies and sustained customer loyalty through enterprise mobility technology.

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