Data Managers: Three Tips for Surviving the 5G Hype

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Click to learn more about author Patrick Hubbard.

5G is increasingly touted as a panacea to solve all connectivity issues (apparently everywhere) and resolve existing bandwidth and latency issues. It’s being sold as a technology stack protocol—included in multiple hardware solutions—and now that it’s here, the world will shortly reverberate in millimeter-wave harmony. Well, not quite. Will 5G enable amazing changes over the next decade? Yes. But to get there, we have to survive an extended period of hype.

As 5G rolls out, most everyday wireless end users—whether on their smartphones, streaming content, or searching the web—won’t actually notice much of a difference. But, over time, we should see fewer hiccups and perhaps even see 5G drive more realistic backhaul performance. However, that expansion requires new towers and other complex infrastructure changes, meaning it’s likely more years away than some champions might admit.

Businesses, however, may realize its benefits sooner by using mixed-mode 5G access points to create private networks to complement traditional Wi-Fi. These efforts will support new applications to better enable employees inside offices and support seamless communication and new services like augmented reality (AR), Internet of Things (IoT), and robots co-working in factories. But before that can happen, your organization will have to learn yet another new technology that entrains a host of high, hype-driven expectations from users.

Three Tips for Getting Started With 5G

Fortunately, in 2019, we’re finally beginning to see enough real-world examples for vendors to invest in training support. Businesses may now begin evaluating potential applications and experiment with 5G—even if internal deployment isn’t immediate. Talk to integration partners, watch videos, and read IT blogs. Chances are you’re beginning to identify use cases that parallel your specific environment. But skepticism will also be rewarded: beware of the snake oil sales reps eager for you to deploy for technology’s sake.

For example, vendors may push the installation of 5G access points without identifying any applications that will see extended functionality or improved performance. This shouldn’t be a problem if you measure 5G against the same list of technology requirements used in the past. Just because it sounds magical doesn’t mean it will improve ROI.

More likely, you’ll consider adopting 5G technologies as part of a larger engineering transformation effort. 5G can bring new immersive or enhanced experiences to life—allowing robots to safely work side by side with people or augment reality for real-time visualization in construction to name a few use cases. In most of those projects, 5G won’t be a significant budget item but development costs will dominate. Whenever that’s the case, IT has a chance to get real funding, and not only select the right technology, but properly fund its adoption.

In every example, 5G success will come from remembering that applications have always been about more than being {shiny new thing}-enabled. Monolithic application modernization, cloud migration, microservices, IoT, and others are potential game-changers, but taking the leap to 5G won’t accelerate progress unless they’re already important for your business. Consider your applications holistically, not just specific functions but like delivery pipelines. What are your business goals? How does it actually work? Will the architecture of your app be able to use wireless low-latency or high-bandwidth connectivity as well as it uses a campus LAN/LAN network environment?

Finally, as with selecting any new technology, when you start evaluating 5G technologies pick several and test them. Especially if you’re embracing 5G in 2019, remember you’re an early adopter—not exactly going at it alone, but best practices are scarce. Constructive skepticism is healthy.

Surviving 5G with a Reliable Friend: Monitoring

The adoption of 5G will be similar to 3G and 4G. During the transition period, the means for connectivity will be mixed and variable from Wi-Fi to private network, 4G, and 5G. This adds a new level of uncertainty and asymmetry to applications, making application performance monitoring (APM) solutions more important than ever. The whole industry is making up 5G as they progress, so monitoring and reporting will be key to preventing painful customer experiences during the transition. 

Perhaps this wouldn’t be as important if applications weren’t brand-defining experiences now. You might even know of a company you don’t like to work with because their digital experience is poor. Increasingly, seconds can make the difference in delight and dismay to the end user. Modern application cycles with greater urgency to respond and a higher need to understand the experience can lead to monitoring bad habits while many DevOps organizations are still playing monitoring catch-up. And even though technical debt is always difficult to overcome, for 5G it may actually block effective use.

Above all, remember that even the most-hyped, earth-shacking, apparently world-changing tech is still just that: technology. We are technology people, and that means we can rely on the same tools—albeit with a little recalibration—to help us make smart choices and support post-deployment. Combine traditional monitoring capabilities with a few new tools like tracing, real-user transaction data, and aggregated events and logs to synthesize all the metrics into useful, actionable views. 5G success won’t be just about troubleshooting the unknown, it will be about solving business problems in new ways. And it turns out rather just surviving 5G, you just might find it has measurable business value.

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