What would your organization do with unlimited bandwidth?

It seems that one of the only things Democrats and Republicans can agree on is that 5G is going to change everything – and is therefore important.

In just about every business, speed means money – and there is a direct link between the speed of internet services in a given area and the density, quality and performance of the companies and the workforce (which together represent a massive section of the tax base) in that area.  

A prime example of how internet connectivity can transform a city is Fort Wayne, Indiana. Despite being my home for several years when I was a kid, Fort Wayne was a relatively generic Rust Belt city, with an economy dominated by manufacturing – Dana, General Electric, General Motors, Magnavox, Falstaff Brewing, and Fruehauf Corporation all had a presence. As manufacturing declined, Fort Wayne (like most Rust Belt cities) suffered.

But in the face of these changes, Fort Wayne did something different than most other cities: the city signed a deal with Verizon in 2001 to be one of the first cities to roll out FiOS technology. By 2006, Fort Wayne was known as the Midwest city with the best connectivity, which in turn helped the region to diversify its economy. Today, the Fort Wayne metropolitan area has a GDP of $25.7B – driven by a diversified base of manufacturing, healthcare, retail, finance and insurance.

The mayor of Fort Wayne, Graham Richard, reflected on his decision to make his city a FIOS early adopter:

“[W]e just did a study of existing businesses in Fort Wayne and of site selection specials, eight years ago no one said that a key reason for having a business located in Fort Wayne, Indiana was the availability of broadband. Today the number one issue is trained, skilled workforce available for the companies and number two is availability of high-speed broadband.”

Would it surprise you to know that Verizon STOPPED rolling out FIOS around the nation – and in fact sold many of their FiOS assets (including Fort Wayne) to other, smaller regional carriers? Their reason was as logical as it is mind-blowing: even at 10Gb per household, FiOS would be out of date before they could finish the nation-wide rollout.

This illustrates a harsh reality about fixed infrastructure (wires, fiber, train tracks, etc.): each one has specific limits, which inevitably become hindrances to future growth.

Consider, for instance, wired Ethernet: in the mid-1980’s, Token Ring and Coax cable were the standards. Those were quickly replaced in the early 1990’s by cat3 cable, and so on and so forth, to where we are today: cat8 cable. In short: we went from 1Mb shared media to dedicated 10Gb media in the span of about two decades. To smooth this breakneck technological evolution, we developed new technologies along the way with the express intent of extending the viability of older technologies – 16Mb Token Ring and the ability to convert phone cabling to 2Mb Ethernet, for instance.

This pattern of exponential increases in internet speeds isn’t limited to cabling. Take, for instance, data center speeds: they’ve skyrocketed from 1Gb -> 10Gb -> 40Gb – > 25Gb -> 100Gb -> 400Gb -> 800Gb, with the last three in the space of just two years.

Just like roads are key to moving cars, bandwidth is the key to moving data – and as we all know, the volume of data is exploding. We’ve created more data in the past two years than we had, cumulatively, in all of recorded history prior to that point.

How does all this relate to 5G?

To put it simply, it comes down to bandwidth per device. If you have a 250Mb connection at your home or office (about the average speed per office today), then the bandwidth per device can be calculated by dividing the max speed (250Mb in this example) by the number of devices using the network.

Unlike in years past, where devices connected to the network was (effectively) the number of users in the office, today’s networks often have three, four, five, even six devices per user. To illustrate this, consider your own home:

  1. How many computers/laptops are present?
  2. How many cell phones?
  3. How many e-readers or tablets?
  4. How many Alexa and/or Google Home devices?
  5. How many intelligent home or IoT devices (lights, Nest thermostats, etc.)?
  6. Any security systems or cameras?
  7. Smart Cars (did they join your wifi?)
  8. Printers / Scanners?
  9. TVs, Roku, Xbox, PS5s?
  10. Other streaming devices not named here?

Compare your answer today to what it would have been just a few years ago, and you’ll likely come to the same conclusion that Verizon’s leadership when they made the decision to sell off their FiOS assets: the average number of data systems in homes is exploding, with no end in sight.

So, as the number of devices skyrockets, the available bandwidth per device is reduced. Continuing our hypothetical example from above, take the 250Mb and divide by the number of people sharing that connection – usually 4-5 people. 250Mb (Shared / 5 people = 50Mb/person. And while not everyone uses high-bandwidth applications at the same time (for instance: Netflix, YouTube or Adobe Creative Cloud), and we can limit individual usage (to a degree) in the firewall, the result is still only ~50 Mb per person, which seems like a lot until you consider: (1) that most people access the internet via ~4 devices and (2) that the data demands from today’s applications are monstrous. 50Mb/person, and 4 devices/person = 12.5Mb device. For reference, streaming a standard, 1080p (not even 4k) video file requires about 20-25Mbps – which is often why your home internet connection is “slow” in the evenings – the data demands from all the connected devices are exceeding the capacity of your network.

As more companies transition to hybrid or remote work, progressively more of our devices are moving out of office buildings (with higher bandwidth) to home offices – but they still need to connect to central resources (like data centers). At Mavenspire, our main data center is NOT in the same building as our people, so bandwidth is required to access it (vs. being able to connect via a physical wire, were it in the same space). Over the past year, we have talked to many clients who are struggling to move their data out of their offices because of the math above. All have come to the conclusion that it’s virtually impossible to deliver a great experience if bandwidth is significantly constrained.

All this brings us back to 5G. As with all public wireless, we are talking about dedicated bandwidth per device (even if it is a shared backhaul). In the case of 5G, this starts at ~100Mb (vs the 4G ~20Mb), with the expectation that it will be upgraded to ~500Mb over time – potentially a twenty-four-fold improvement over the current 4G technology. That means there is no internal networking required, that companies can provide 100Mb to 500Mb per device (assuming they have unlimited data service) and that each device can move around freely or be installed wherever there is battery or power.

This bandwidth makes emerging technologies like self-driving cars and autonomous delivery by drone – both of which are incredibly resource-intensive – viable at scale. If 4G was the dawn of the “app for everything” age, then 5G will remove the physical boundaries of data, will accelerate adoption of Zero Network Trust Access (“ZNTA”) technologies that will make it possible to access the data you need from anywhere, securely (and without traditional VPN limitations) and will disrupt traditional telco business models.

Wondering what to do next in order to prepare for 5G? Mavenspire’s Advisory services are available to leaders and organizations that want to start leveraging this technology. Just as we aligned ourselves with manufacturers who could do private LTE (4G) for buildings, we also have built relationships for the new, private 5G technologies that are being developed alongside those from the major telcos. This is the time to start conversations about what could be done with infinite bandwidth. This is the time to take your organization to the next level.

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