In April of last year, Chris Welch from The Verge went to Chicago to test one of Verizon’s first 5G sites in the country. While coverage was spotty and toggled unpredictably between 5G and 4G LTE, speed tests in reliable areas showed average download speeds of 400–600Mbps. That’s nearly 10 times the speed of 4G connectivity. In fact, some early adopters even achieved speeds of over 1.4 Gbps, downloading the entire first season of Stranger Things on Netflix in 38.78 seconds, compared to one hour and 16 minutes on 4G.
While wide-scale 5G deployment remains years away in most of the world, its emergence could inspire new technologies considered unthinkable today. For example, when 4G launched in 2009, few expected that one day we could record and post high-quality videos on social media in minutes. Within just a few years, we had the ability to hail ridesharing taxis with the touch of a button.
Similarly, 5G can significantly transform the way we work. Access to unprecedented wireless broadband speeds can potentially eliminate administrative tasks and supercharge productivity and innovation. At the same time, 5G could also enable new levels of communication that take teamwork and collaboration to the next level.
Here are a few ways 5G will transform our work:
1. 5G connects tomorrow’s remote workforce
The flexible work culture has reached critical mass. A survey by IWG found that 80% of respondents would turn down a job that didn’t offer flexible options, while 95% of workers in the country want remote work options. At the same time, LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 Report found a 78% increase in job listings that mentioned work flexibility than the previous year. Clearly, tomorrow’s workplace will extend far outside traditional office spaces—and 5G will play a critical role in enabling it.
As organizations increasingly embrace remote and distributed teams, the ability to collaborate anywhere has never been more vital. Current 4G devices offer effective—but primitive—options for communication. Anyone who’s joined a conference call during a commute to work, only to have the video and audio cut off during an important presentation, likely sympathizes. It’s happened to all of us, and it severely limits our ability to work flexibly.
With dramatically faster and more reliable internet connections, 5G will expand the capabilities of communications technology. Employees on the road can connect via video meetings with reliable, high-quality video with minimal latency issues. This means remote employees can confidently collaborate from anywhere without being tethered to the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot.
2. 5G sets the stage for immersive meetings
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are growing in popularity, and thanks to 5G, they might soon join the workplace. We often consume more data than 4G can handle, which often leads to breakdowns in service. The more devices congesting a network, the more connections needed—something 4G can’t handle.
While 4G can only support 4,000 connections per square kilometer, estimates suggest 5G can support a whopping 1 million connections. With more space for devices to connect, the pipelines are open for AR and VR adoption. Communications solutions will start to see demand as more organizations shift to remote work.
AR and VR give organizations the opportunity to create fully immersive and contextual virtual meeting rooms that simulate traditional office meetings. Distributed workers could join from anywhere in the world and still be “present” at the meeting. This replicates face-to-face interactions that are critical for colleagues to develop personal relationships and foster collaboration.
3. 5G accelerates the Internet of Things (IoT)
4G enabled the IoT by connecting our everyday devices to the internet, but 5G will accelerate IoT in the intelligent workplace. For example, cameras in meeting rooms can detect employee engagement based on presentation content, the temperature of the room, seating arrangement, and lighting. The data can be sent to managers and facilitators to make real-time adjustments and optimize meeting productivity for everyone.
Now, imagine if every device at work was connected. Your device starts your car, opens the front door at the office and locks it behind you, turns on your computer as you approach your desk, adjusts your lighting based on preferences, synchronizes your schedule with colleagues, opens up the right files and presentations, and summarizes your day before you leave. By seamlessly connecting the devices all around you, 5G eliminates distractions and optimizes your productivity.
Preparing for the future of communication and collaboration
5G might be just a trending topic now, but in a few years, a fully connected and streamlined workspace will be a reality. Technology continues to bridge the gap between distributed teams and allow workers to stay productive regardless of location. It won’t happen overnight, however, and it will take several years of investment and development. Organizations should anticipate the impending impacts of 5G and prepare.
As tomorrow’s work prioritizes flexibility and distributed teams, employees will depend on communications technology to stay connected and productive. Unified communications solutions like the RingCentral app equip 5G-enabled workers with team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone, enabling effortless collaboration from anywhere on any device.
Organizations with the right communications technology to support 5G work transformations will drive employee engagement, productivity, and retention. By setting up tomorrow’s workers with effective collaboration tools, employers are ready to embrace the future of work and reap the rewards of the 5G economy.
Originally published May 15, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023