Research finds COVID-19 pandemic boosting 5G enterprise use-cases

June 10, 2020
ABI Research notes that, as COVID-19 has been responsible for a significant surge in data traffic as work moves into people's homes, 5G has proven to have many benefits beyond just being the next-generation technology for consumer mobile broadband.

Several new use-cases enabled by 5G deployments have been of great help to enterprises during the COVID-19 pandemic and should help to spur deployments, finds global tech market advisory firm, ABI Research.

The technology analyst firm notes that, as the spread of COVID-19 continues, more than 1 billion people worldwide are in either full or partial lockdown, confined to their homes as governments are trying to moderate the spread of the virus. During this difficult time, ABI says that all telco network operators have reported increases of 30%-40% in all varieties of data traffic, both fixed and mobile.

"It seems that, so far, telco networks are coping, and the over-provisioning measures operators have been deploying their networks are paying off," explains Dimitris Mavrakis, research director at ABI Research. "User-perceived speed and user experience may have dropped, but networks are still operating at an acceptable level."

However, the analyst notes that lower overall consumer confidence, potential supply chain disruptions, and potential migration of mobile broadband traffic to fixed broadband in busy urban locations will mean that the deployment of 5G for consumer use cases will slow down.

ABI Research forecasts that 5G network capital expenditure (CAPEX) will likely suffer a 10% decline during 2020 -- but adds that this decline will be offset later in 2020 and 2021, when operators will increase spending to make up for this delay. The firm also expects that the heaviest effects of the pandemic crisis will subside in June 2020, after which the world will slowly start to go back to a "new normal," embodying most of its previous routines.

Meanwhile, as ABI's Mavrakis points out, "5G in China is illustrating new use cases that provide true benefits to enterprise." The analyst says that China has already illustrated that 5G has been used as a key technology in new hospitals and is, in a way, fulfilling network requirements that no other technology can. For example, China Mobile deployed 5G in Wuhan's Huoshenshan hospital that was rapidly built to handle the outbreak.

"The operator claims that the network was completed in a matter of 3 days, including network planning, a site survey, design, fiber installation for backhaul, and base station deployment and commissioning," says Mavrakis. "The 5G network provided high-speed reliable connectivity for healthcare staff to perform their duties and enabled new use cases, such as data collection, remote diagnosis, and remote monitoring. Another use case is AIS in Thailand, which connected hospitals with 5G, and is even trialing 5G-connected robots for treating patients," he continues.

ABI notes that, at the very least, 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) technology can now enable rapid deployment of broadband connections for new hospitals, as well as reinforce broadband network capabilities for existing hospitals.

"Moreover, these connections can provide the foundation for advanced services, such as remote diagnosis, out-patient handling, and primary care," Mavrakis explains, while noting, "In addition, the combination of advanced data collection and Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms will play an important role, especially in the more technically complex, edge device-centric use cases. The low-latency and high-throughput characteristics of 5G will help enhance data acquisition, model updates, and device prediction accuracy and reliability."

ABI research concludes that the use of 5G during the pandemic has illustrated that the new technology can provide tangible benefits to many enterprise verticals, the most important of which are healthcare and public safety services.

The analyst expects that these early use cases will prove to several enterprise verticals that 5G technology can rapidly provide connectivity to new areas, and enable use cases that were previously not possible. For example, 5G can enable burgeoning applications such as remote temperature checking, constant communication for first responders, as well as methods for patient transfer, out-patient clinics and temporary hospitals, and re-purposing networks, says the analyst.

ABI Research expects that 5G enterprise applications will only accelerate, starting with Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), which will provide a foundation for network slicing, reliable networking, and more. "The spread of COVID-19 has indeed been a global challenge, but it has also been a platform for illustrating that 5G has been designed to be much more than just a consumer-focused mobile broadband network," ABI's Mavrakis concludes.

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