The true potential of 5G for businesses

Technology is transforming our world beyond recognition and both public and private sector organizations are at a tipping point where they must embrace digital transformation or risk being left behind. Concepts which once seemed futuristic and out of reach – autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, and smart cities – are now within our sights and 5G is being touted as the key to unlocking the door to this digital future.

Yet, with all the excitement and hype surrounding 5G, businesses are in danger of running before they can walk. It is one thing to recognize the potential in the network, but another to ensure deployment will support and build your business, rather than compromise security and result in crisis. We know that cyber attacks on businesses are already rife – Cisco reports that a third of businesses globally have experienced an attack on operational infrastructure. How vulnerable will businesses be when they’re embedded with technology which is reliant on large volumes of data?

There are many unanswered questions about 5G but businesses with the imagination and ingenuity to seek the answers for themselves will reap the benefits.

5G: A reality check

5G is set to revolutionize the way connectivity is delivered as it will be 30 times faster than current network infrastructure and will thus allow for seemingly instantaneous, two-way data transfer. For businesses, this low-latency connectivity is tipped to help meet the increasing digital demands of customers, service users and colleagues.

Yet, 5G isn’t all about speed – it’s about the possibilities that speed brings. Further down the line, the next generation network will enable a fully connected, smart way of living. The Internet of Things – millions of devices communicating in real-time to create a seamless digital ecosystem – will no longer be a buzzword but rather, normality.

Most enterprises won’t see progress with 5G until 2021 and so businesses mustn’t let the hype around 5G cloud their judgement. The infrastructure challenges posed by 5G means the rollout will be much more gradual than the seemingly sudden launch of 4G.

Communications providers are only now beginning to implement the necessary infrastructure and many practical aspects remain undefined. This presents opportunities for all stakeholders – including governments and technology providers – to collaborate effectively to achieve the end-goal of a fully connected and digital society.

Balancing security and innovation

Enticed by the possibilities of 5G, businesses are at risk of overlooking the security concerns which arise with the next generation network. Whether they’re unaware of the security threats at hand, or daunted by the challenge of transitioning from legacy systems and the costs this involves, organizations are neglecting to consider how prepared their security infrastructure is. Of course, it would be misguided to let security fears stunt technological progress but, as 5G paves the way for a fully connected digital world, businesses will only fulfill 5G’s potential with the right foundations in place.

By its nature, cloud technology will invite more threats due to the increased volume of data, and the flexibility of software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), for example, leave systems vulnerable to attack.

Network security measures don’t have to be onerous, however. Unified threat management (UTM), for example, gives businesses complete protection against a host of incoming threats, removing the need to implement different solutions for different threats.

Taking steps to organize data using encryption is also imperative. Whilst it’s impossible to prevent hackers getting in, business can protect sensitive or private files in this way. Creating an impossible maze of navigation distracts and confuses potential hackers and creates a challenging and time consuming process, impeding hackers in their tracks.

In addition to technical measures, businesses can bolster security by instilling vital organizational and cultural changes. Engaging the workforce as a human firewall which is trained to recognize abnormalities in the network will be a priority. Without full buy-in from every person in the organization, businesses that implement 5G and new technologies will find themselves at an increased risk.

Exploring the unknown

Whilst 5G is in its infancy, businesses have the opportunity to implement a robust security infrastructure that will help to protect vital data assets. Ensuring that technical and organizational security measures are ‘designed in’ from the outset rather than an afterthought will put businesses in the best position to unlock the potential of 5G.

Digital laggards will miss the boat – for them, after all the excitement, 5G will simply represent faster speeds. But those with the foresight will use 5G to innovate and explore the unknown realms of the network.

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