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Internet / Enterprise

Utilizing 5G as an Enterprise Internet Redundancy Option

Rob Rodier
Surely you've heard of 5G. The successor to 4G LTE, this wireless technology continues to innovate how we communicate, work and travel. But is 5G "ready for primetime"? How can your business take advantage of 5G in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic? According to Ericsson, "While it is easy to agree on what 5G will bring in 2025, today’s current industry environment has made it increasingly difficult to develop succinct tactics and plans for the next 6-12 months."

Many still regard 5G as a "Tom Swift" technology, a futuristic industrial science for tomorrow instead of today. 5G applications for autonomous vehicles (AVs), telerobotic surgery, and factory automation will no doubt become widespread in years to come.

However, your enterprise can likely use 5G (or, for that matter, 4G LTE) now as an option for backup Internet connectivity. Wireless technology is also a compelling option for temporary use cases such as remote job sites when work is completed before a dedicated circuit can be installed, retail outlets, and branch locations transmitting or receiving relatively small amounts of data.

5G Flavors

The efficacy of 5G, as for all data carried across the electromagnetic spectrum, depends upon wavelength. Lower frequency bandwidths can propagate (transmit) over great distances but carry relatively little data. As bandwidth frequency increases, so does data capacity but at the expense of distance.

Compare commercial frequency modulation (FM) radio bands with amplified modulation (AM) radio bands. In the U.S., AM radio stations use medium frequency (MF) bands broadcast over spectrum between 531 kHz and 1602 kHz.

FM radio stations broadcast over very high frequency (VHF), usually between 87.5 MHz to 108 MHz.

Source: ntia

Since AM bandwidths have lower audio quality, this portion of the spectrum is used for stations offering "talk radio" programs since the human voice requires less bandwidth than "high fidelity" stereo music typically broadcast over FM bands. Also, AM bandwidths are susceptible to atmospheric interference and line-of-sight obstructions; FM bands are not.

Yet, FM radio waves only propagate to the visual horizon, which limits their transmission to 35—40 miles (50—60 km). Conversely, with sufficient power and leveraging the atmospheric effects of Earth's ionosphere, AM radio waves can transmit across hundreds of miles.

U.S. MNOs (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile) have two separate 5G networks transmitting over separate portions of the radio spectrum. In the U.S., the FCC is converting "Goldilocks" or "beachfront" mid-band spectrum—so-called because it offers an optimal balance between data capacity and distance—from satellite to terrestrial use. Also, MNOs are repurposing spectrum previously allotted for 3G to LTE and 5G. In February 2021, the FCC auctioned off the 3.7 GHz portion of the "C Band" spectrum to bidders, fetching over $81 bn.

The other 5G network MNOs offer utilizes the "millimeter wave" (MMW) portion of the radio spectrum. Also known as Extremely High Frequency (EHF), it delivers prodigious amounts of data but only over relatively short distances. Moreover, line-of-sight obstructions and adverse atmospheric conditions can hinder MMW propagation.

As T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray states, "Millimeter-wave (MMW) spectrum has great potential in terms of speed and capacity but doesn’t travel far from the cell site and doesn’t penetrate materials at all. It will never materially scale beyond small pockets of 5G hotspots in dense urban areas." In the .gif below, see how even a partial obstruction blocks MMW:

Source: T-Mobile

Given the expense of cellular communications and in particular 5G, an enterprise would not exclusively rely on wireless as a network solution. But it can be a viable contingency should other, more cost-effective technologies (such as lightwave) fail.

5G Network Slicing

One revolutionary innovation 5G delivers is network slicing architecture. Network slicing allows Internet providers to dedicate bandwidth for specific applications such as machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, Industrial IoT, and smart utility grids. By partitioning network functions, providers customize network solutions to efficiently use network resources such as bandwidth, power, and data speeds.

Peter Linder, currently head of Ericsson's 5G Marketing North America, states the difference between 4G and 5G network slicing is that "4G doesn’t distinguish between what device is at the other end." With 5G network slicing, applications can be conformed for dynamic network usage, quickly scaled up or down (with bandwidth redirected to accommodate heavier upload or download usage), depending upon need.

5G vs Light

The first mobile technology on par with fiber, 5G offers comparable data speeds, capacity, and latency. That said, 5G will not replace fiber. Global Internet backbones need lightwave technology and submarine fiber networks to connect continents. Indeed, 99% of transcontinental data traverses undersea fiber cables, with a total carrying capacity measured in terabits per second.

Rather, 5G compliments lightwave. Without 5G, fiber lacks mobility. Without fiber, 5G could not deliver the revolutionary innovations this wireless technology promises. In essence, 5G bridges the relatively short distances between mobile devices and applications to the fiber backbone - the “last mile”.

When viewed in light of Nielsen's Law of Internet Bandwidth (which held between 1983 and 2019), 5G will become essential as more devices and applications devour massive amounts of bandwidths. Nielsen's Law states that "a high-end user's connection speed grows by 50% per year." As of 2019, the typical "high-end user" required 325 Mbps. Thus, it's apparent that 5G will be crucial to future enterprise networking needs, particularly since 4G LTE theoretically tops out at 300 Mbps down and 75 Mbps up. Real-world LTE data speeds are much slower.

5G for Redundant Internet Connectivity

As we mentioned here, a backup Internet connection for your business is more important than ever. It's clear that when (not if) a business loses its Internet connectivity, mayhem ensues. How much would the loss of company email, customer-facing websites, VoIP communications, and access to cloud storage cost your business—per minute? We found an Internet outage could cost your company between $2,300 to $9,000 per minute depending upon the size of your organization and web usage.

Today's Internet for enterprises relies on a large and increasingly complex ecosystem built from elements including data centers, content delivery networks (CDNs), and domain name system (DNS) servers. "Even brief disruptions of these services can have a significant impact," states Network Computing.

Now, would your enterprise run its entire network backbone on a wireless 5G network? No. However, 5G is growing in popularity as a backup internet connectivity option, especially for your less mission critical network nodes such as branch offices and retail locations.

There are pros and cons to utilizing 5G as your backup internet connectivity. On the plus side, the time to stand up a 5G connection is eons faster than procuring your typical dedicated circuit. All you have to do is obtain a router, insert a SIM card, and you’re good to go. Additionally, because 5G cellular wireless is just that - wireless - you don’t have to worry about a small fiber disruption cutting off your network and causing downtime.

The primary con of using 5G as your redundant connection is that 5G is a metered service, meaning that you pay by how much you utilize the service. Most businesses are accustomed to unlimited/unmetered connections. Due to this billing method. you are likely to experience a costly surprise or two during periods of higher utilization. Another con is that not all local governments and municipalities are supportive of 5G installation due to the aesthetic of the hardware. This means that, even if you’re interested in 5G as your redundant connection, your geography might not have the capability yet.

Protect Your Business with Redundant Internet Connectivity

Now that you see the wisdom of deploying backup Internet connectivity with wireless technologies, what's next? Lightyear can help your company elucidate its networks and business applications for a wireless solution customized to your needs.

We're here to help you navigate the Internet service providers (ISPs) as well as affordable wireless backup options. Find out more by contacting us here.

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