Industrial revolutions throughout history have transitioned mankind away from reliance on animals, brought us into an age of mass production, and created digital products and services for billions of people.

However, the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ in which we find ourselves will be fundamentally different from those changes that have come before. It is defined by a variety of emerging technologies impacting all disciplines, economies and industries – with one of the most significant being the next generation of wireless technology, 5G.

In the media, explanations of 5G’s benefits have been a little patchy at times: we’ve been told about higher data speeds, faster video downloads – all major advantages to today’s data-savvy, information-hungry consumers. But there’s often a crucial element missing: the real value of 5G isn’t just its exceptional speed, but its impact on latency.

With 4G networks, you’re going to be dealing with an average latency of around 50 milliseconds. That could drop to two milliseconds with 5G technology. To emphasise just how minimal that is, it takes at least 10 milliseconds for an image seen by the human eye to be processed by the brain.

With devices exchanging data practically in real-time, there are some important implications for technological progress. One area of impact could be vehicle-to-vehicle communication for self-driving cars; 5G could help autonomous vehicles negotiate stop signs, merge into lanes, and ‘chat’ to traffic signals.

Other opportunities for 5G improvements include factory robots, drone navigation, virtual reality and augmented reality.

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In many instances, these applications will directly drive the growth of an emergent IoT ecosystem. A Gartner report estimated that there would be 20.4 billion connected devices globally this year, and this IoT ecosystem is set to radically increase with the expansion of 5G.

This IoT ecosystem is set to generate a massive volume of data, and the businesses that will really thrive in this world will be those who find the best ways to manage and monetise that. Much of this data will be likely processed locally at the ‘edge’ of networks, which should result in significantly faster speed, lower latency, and potentially, greater cost savings and scalability too.

To meet intensifying demand, big tech players like Microsoft and Amazon are already putting a lot of their resources into building and refining their edge offerings.

Looking back at the rollout of 4G and the time it took for the full benefits to be felt, major changes to the way organisations operate won’t happen overnight. Nevertheless, for businesses, the time to create their 5G strategy and prepare for the 5G world is now.

While 5G will arrive bit by bit, dramatic benefits will eventually be realised, and in time, corporate networks may need to be entirely rethought and rebuilt from the ground up.

5G is strikingly dissimilar to the 4G networks that we’re accustomed with today, and the organisations that get it right can expect sweeping rewards: truly connected operations, improved monetisation of data, better connections with customers, greater IoT capabilities, improved value right across the business.

All companies need to keep their finger on the pulse of this exciting technological shift, or they risk being left behind.