The first commercial 5G smartphones are already with us and by 2023, there will be 1 billion 5G subscriptions, accounting for nearly 20% of the entire mobile data traffic. Will the fifth generation of wireless network connectivity prove to be a major boon for the cloud computing market or is it poised to be the cloud’s death knell?

As is often the case with any major technological advancement, there are scattered opinions and conflicting reports on the subject. Certain scaremongers would have you believe that 5G will render the advantages of the cloud obsolete whilst those on the other side of the aisle are more optimistic and feel that it is likely to have a positive, complimentary affect.

So who is right here? It’s a little more complicated than that.

The future is now

Whilst the UK is still taking its time playing catch up (thanks in no small part to the Huawei security scandal), in the US the fifth generation is already here. Verizon rolled out its 5G wireless services in four US cities last year and revealed speeds around 20 times faster than the current standard). For the layman, this means the ability to download a high-def file in seconds instead of minutes; for businesses, it means a lot more. On whatever side of the argument we might find ourselves, 5G is going to make a significant mark on the digital landscape in 2020 and will bring with it unprecedented speed and reliability – up to 100 gigabits per second per device and latency as low as 1 millisecond. Many IT professionals and businesses are already laying the foundations and preparing for the rollout, but what does that actually mean?

Regardless of the size of your business, it most likely utilises cloud computing services either operationally or for its customer offerings (more likely both). Through increased 5G data speed, all of these services will be faster and more efficient – from unified communications services to mobile banking apps and mobile printing. The lower latency of 5G will also mean new business models can open up around it, including more elaborate IoT platforms and even remote robotics. On a more immediate level, services that were once ‘watered down’ to facilitate the slower speeds of 4G will finally be allowed to realise their full potential.

On paper, this all looks positive, but some industry insiders are predicting that, whilst 5G networks will initially make it easier for devices to communicate in real-time with centralised cloud-computing networks, in the long-term, those same networks have the potential to essentially eliminate the cloud as a computing platform.

Will 5G kill the cloud?

There are doomsayers within the industry that speak gravely of the disruption to come once 5G truly lands. However, for 5G to work without the cloud, it would require literally billions of autonomous smart devices to be working and acting on collected data in real-time. This might be possible many years from now, but for the foreseeable future, it’s simply not a feasible situation.

For one thing, 5G works quite differently from 4G and requires a direct line-of-sight between the antenna and the device for it to work properly. What’s more, some of these frequencies can actually be absorbed by humidity, rain and other objects, which means they can’t travel as far. As a result, the service offered by Verizon was patchy at best, to begin with, as users struggled to get service in all but a few key areas of each supported city.

Of course, as 5G internet uses shorter wavelengths, antennas can be significantly smaller than existing antennas and one 5G antenna could potentially support over 1,000 more devices than a 4G antenna. However, until the infrastructure is in place, the potential simply won’t be there for this bold new ideal future where all of our data is shared between devices over a super-fast and completely wireless network. Until that day arrives, the cloud will still be a necessity, but data centres are going to need to adapt.

5G and the data centre

The key 5G issue for data centres across the globe is making sure they have the capacity to hold and process all of the faster and denser streams of data that will be flooding in. Of course, analysts differ on the timing and breadth of 5G adoption in the UK, but the general consensus seems to be that the true trickle will begin at the tail end of 2019 and that this trickle will blossom into a torrent by 2022. There are over 75 billion devices predicted to be connected to the internet by 2025, with 5G catalysing a fundamental sea change in the way we use our cloud networks. Whereas latency was once tolerated, once data is being used to control a robotic arm performing surgery on the other side of the planet, data delays and ‘jitters’ are simply not going to be acceptable anymore.

Smaller edge computing data centres will obviously play a role, as the closer the data is to where it is being processed – the faster and more efficient the transmission and computing of that data will be. End users will also need to re-evaluate the size and location of their data centre infrastructure, with the colocation and hybrid solutions offered by Telehouse offering a flexible and powerful potential platform, particularly for UK-based companies.

At a base level, however, 5G network speeds mean more capacity is required and that the cloud services and network architecture already in place are optimised to handle all of this new data. It also means ensuring that data centres are stocked with the best next-generation networking equipment. The Telehouse Cloud-Interconnect includes many of the world’s leading private and public cloud service providers (such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure). This means it will always be working with the very best and most heavily optimised servers and the most up-to-date equipment.

Preparing for the 5G revolution

5G is going to transform cloud services industry in a big way, but that’s not something we should be shying away from – it’s something we should actively be embracing. Change is, by its very nature, disruptive, but it’s also necessary for growth and as long as the data centre service providers at the heart of the industry start planning and preparing for 5G now, they will be ready to truly utilise its potential when it finally ‘goes mainstream’ over the next few years.

Ultimately, 5G internet is not groundbreaking technology – it’s more of an evolution than a revolution. That means it should be that much easier for businesses to adapt to its requirements and if they do, we all stand to benefit. Rural areas that previously wouldn’t have been able to consider the cloud might finally be encouraged to come on board, businesses will be able to access the cloud and its features quickly and reliably from wherever they are in the world and widespread access to virtual machines will lead to a rise in flexible remote working.

It’s a bold future indeed, and 5G and the cloud are both sitting comfortably at its immediate centre, so anyone involved in the value chain that hasn’t prepared accordingly might have some serious waking up to do.

If you have been convinced by the potential of 5G and how it’s set to impact the cloud computing world, enquire today about Telehouse’s cloud services or ask us about our Club Telehouse 5G Event, happening this October in London.