5G predictions for 2021

Jeremy Spencer, General Manager of Corporate Propositions, BT Enterprise, explains how 5G can better enable the digital transformation journey

For the past decade, 5G, as with many emerging technologies, has often fallen into the trap of being seen as more of a buzzword than a technology with true business impact. In fact, recent research conducted by BT highlights that many business leaders are still unclear on how the technology can be best leveraged, and importantly - how it can tie into and support core organisational and commercial goals. Of the 1,000 UK business leaders we surveyed, only 11% of respondents said they are currently using 5G.

But as the rollout of the 5G network continues across the UK this year, there will be no doubt that when adopted and implemented in the right way, 5G will bring enormous and exciting potential to save time, boost productivity, unlock innovation and contribute to a sustainable business future. The main challenge for businesses over the coming year will be for leaders to make the link between 5G adoption and their strategic objectives.

Outside of enterprise, 5G adoption is steadily on the rise. Recent research from CCS Insight suggests that by next year, almost two-thirds of new phones in 2021 will be 5G-enabled. This is relevant, as it is widespread consumer acceptance and adoption which will lay the foundations for the same uptake in an enterprise setting.

Progress is certainly already underway. Over the past couple of years, 5G testbeds have been emerging across the country as businesses across all sectors start to experiment with the technology to test its potential and seek an early adopter advantage over their competitors. As we move into next year, we can expect to see this trial and testing phase evolve into widespread commercial deployment of the technology, as businesses from all sectors look to capitalise on the benefits that ultrafast, uninterrupted connectivity can bring them.

5G in manufacturing
The manufacturing sector is ripe for change, enabled by 5G. With health and safety as a top and necessary priority, 5G can be used to boost major innovations across the industry – including the use of collision detection sensors to ensure health and safety on factory floors.

The work we’re doing with the Worcestershire 5G Testbed (W5G) is a fantastic example of how the technology can be used, and what it can power. We’re working to accelerate the testbed’s vision of smart manufacturing – delivered through the UK’s first live 5G factory installation. By creating a smart factory where machines can learn and adapt to changes on the factory floor as they happen, productivity will be boosted through instant, autonomous decisions which will benefit the production line. The insight gleaned from the W5G will be used to stimulate innovation across the manufacturing sector in the region and beyond.

Smart devices shoot to the top of the agenda
With the introduction of 5G-enabled smart devices, such as collision detection sensors, the emerging technology will provide an almost immediate benefit to the manufacturing industry, but other sectors will be able to learn and benefit from these testbeds too. As commercial adoption of 5G increases, retailers can look to leverage the emerging technology to provide a more personalised experience for consumers via mobile applications and potentially even smart glasses. Experiential shopping is a major draw for consumers, particularly as brick-and-mortar stores find themselves under pressure from declining footfall amidst Covid-19. Adoption of 5G-connected smart glasses could one day offer consumers the ability to view items such as clothing without having to try them on.

Applying 5G to healthcare
Once widespread adoption levels have been reached, 5G is going to revolutionise the healthcare industry. We are beginning to see this take place already. Last year, BT demonstrated a powerful example of how 5G can transform healthcare and emergency services, with the UK’s first remote-controlled ultrasound scan over a public 5G network. In practice, this means that an ultrasound could be performed by a paramedic inside a moving ambulance.

Remote, real-time diagnostics is a key trend we can expect to see develop in 2021, as 5G adoption increases, and consumers become more and more familiar and comfortable with remote interaction - a familiarity that will extend to critical sectors such as healthcare.

However, there is still much work to be done. Our recent research found the medical and health services sector to be somewhat of a laggard when it comes to adoption of emerging technologies. Excluding VOIP, nearly half (48%) of survey respondents said they aren’t using any of the emerging technologies we listed - including 5G - with 38% saying they don’t have a plan to adopt any of them in the next five years. The healthcare sector is under more pressure than ever, and technology should play a key role in making its work more efficient and effective.

Change begins at the top
2021 will see 5G shift from a boardroom buzzword to the subject of a more meaningful conversation around how it can help achieve business priorities. Covid-19 has ushered in a huge wave of digital transformation, as businesses race to meet rapidly shifting customer and employee expectations. If businesses want to keep up with the times, and continue to deliver value, adoption of emerging technologies, particularly 5G, will help them on their journey.