In March 2020 everything that could be moved online already has, from elementary schools to college classes, from entire company workforces to shareholder meetings. Whole cities have emptied under the coronavirus threat as businesses tell employees to work from home, students are sent indoors to learn online and every type of entertainment— from restaurants and sporting venues to movie theaters — shutters, forcing people to stay home and rely on their home broadband networks to interact with the outside world.
Enterprise adoption of 5G will be delayed because the 3GPP standards body has been sidelined by the COVID-19 outbreak and can’t finish its work on a critical standard for at least two months, according to ABI Research.
The standard in question, known as Release 16, addresses latency standards and mandating 99.999% uptime, said ABI Research analyst Leo Gergs. It was due for release in March and will now be delayed until at least June.
“Considering that an hour of machine downtime costs each manufacturer on average $300,000, this underlines the importance a high reliability on availability of the communication network,” he said.
In 2019 5G was available on only about 1% of phones sold, according to market research firm NPD Group.
Carriers promote 5G as a major step forward for wireless that will usher in new use cases — from driverless cars to robotic surgeries to smart buildings. And coronavirus might just be the catalyst for 5G that the world needs as it forces whole nations to enforce quarantines and social distancing and remote work and schooling.
Moreover, is the coronavirus outbreak and the “social distancing″ required to mitigate the spread going to become the business case for more advanced and robust 5G technologies for a future in which business, health care and human interaction must be at more than an arm’s length?
The jury is still out on whether home broadband, which tends to have lower capacity than more robust business networks, will be able to handle the traffic as whole neighborhoods become Wi-Fi hotbeds as adults video conference with their co-workers and their teens stream videos in between checking Blackboard for assignments. Providers, are facing a test of whether they’ll be able to handle the increased demand.
In China, which is a bit ahead of U.S. in deployment of the technology, 5G is being used to support health applications and apps that monitor the user’s temperatures. A program was recently launched at a coronavirus hospital ward in Wuhan staffed by 5G-powered robots to protect medics from the deadly virus.
In the immediate future, the global pandemic has forced a supply chain slowdown that may delay the rapid expansion of 5G. There’s been a dramatic slowdown with factory production in China that could slow the rate at which 5G equipment migrates to the U.S. and elsewhere.