It's a given that more people are working outside of traditional office environments now than even a couple of years ago. The mix of increasingly powerful devices, super-fast (and accelerating) networks and the lifestyle changes those technologies create are relocating the office to wherever the worker happens to be.
That trend will continue during 2019. One particularly interesting and promising element is that wireless networking is accelerating to the point that it is more or less as fast as wired networks. This is a major milestone. One Gigabit per second (Gbps) connectivity became available in many more places during 2018 than before. Indeed, it almost is commonplace.
Here are samples of announcements that were made during 2018:
* Last December, Multichannel News reported that some businesses and customers in 12 cities (Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio and Waco) were to get free Netgear Nighthawk mobile hotspots that are capable of connecting to AT&T's 5G network.
* In a January 2019 roundup of 5G activity, Tom's Guide said that Verizon will introduce a 5G phone this year and AT&T said it will introduce two. LG is on track to offer a 5G phone that will be exclusive to Sprint, which is being acquired by T-Mobile.
* Verizon and AT&T are engaging in a war of words over what constitutes 5G, according to Lightreading's Mike Dano. This sort of fighting is a sure sign that the companies are getting serious about commercialized services.
What Mobile Workers Want
There are many more announcements of expanded services. Significantly, many of these came from small and rural service providers. The projects already announced will be ongoing during 2019 and more will be announced. It is quite a change. It's one thing to be able to work at home a bit. It's another to have access to network speeds that were not even universal in corporate offices just a few years ago.
An important change – and one that directly affects mobile workers – will occur in 2019: 5G will make the full leap from the lab and field trials into commercial deployment.
That transition started last year, but will accelerate in 2019. The process will differ depending upon the carrier. Verizon and AT&T will use the high frequency millimeter (mmWave) band, while T-Mobile and Sprint (either as a single company or individually) will focus on already commonly used 600 MHz spectrum.
The difference between the two approaches is significant to mobile workers. Since the T-Mobile approach uses existing technology, the carrier's version of 5G will be more widely deployed more quickly. The key question is whether or not the performance difference between mmWave and 600 MHz 5G matters to mobile workers. Just because T-Mobile calls its platform 5G doesn't mean that it provides all the features and functionality that have long been promised.
The approach taken by AT&T and Verizon means that truly mobile 5G networks won't be available as quickly. That doesn't mean that the two largest carriers in the country won't be serving mobile workers with 5G during 2019, however. The two carriers are using the technology to support fixed wireless access (FWA) to remote and underserved areas.
FWA is a win for both the carriers and home workers. The telcos will begin generating revenue, which is a significant step considering how costly the 5G development cycle has been. Rural workers, which traditionally are underserved due to the cost barriers of deploying fiber, will gain access to far higher speed connectivity than they have had to date.
David Slight, the president of U.S. Operations for Quora Consulting, suggests that 5G won't be a panacea to remote and mobile workers because it will only affect the last mile. Still, he told IT Business Edge that it will be a factor. "For remote workers roaming the streets and working from cafes (in areas with service), then having your own 5G hotspot in your pocket, instead of relying on Starbucks Wi-Fi, will keep you connected at higher speeds with lower latency."
Consumers and enterprises have been hearing a lot about 5G for a few years. The development curve has accelerated due to competition and the reality that ecosystems have been down this road so often that they are better than they used to be at bringing products to market. This means that the big news for mobile workers in 2019 will be the availability of 5G. The first wave will be FWA, and the second, which will emerge later in the year, will be full mobility. Meanwhile, wired speeds will be more widely available to telecommuters. All in all, it will be a good year for distributed workforces.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.