5G wireless connectivity is certainly faster and wider than current 4G infrastructure, which gives the impression that it is merely an incremental step in the performance we can expect from our existing services.

But this is not entirely the case. Instead, most experts agree that 5G will usher in entirely new classes of applications and services, everything from connected cars to augmented visual and auditory experiences. This means virtually every organization that touches 5G – from the telecom carrier to regional providers to enterprise end users – needs to start rethinking the operational side of their network infrastructure.

According to Yosi Fait, CEO of IoT solutions company Telit, the shift will be about as dramatic as the upgrade from simple mobile phones to advanced smartphones and all the innovative, industry-bending apps that came with it. For example, in industrial settings alone, applications like telepresence and sensor-driven management and visibility will usher in a new era of performance and efficiency, while widespread intelligent automation and robotics will likely become commonplace within the next decade. These services will likely vary widely in scope and capability due to 5G’s ability to be sliced into numerous networks with varying levels of speed, agility, flexibility and other factors.

Clearly, this is a major change in wireless connectivity, both on an infrastructure level and in the way it allows us to interact with data. Seeking Alpha’s Robert Kientz notes that 5G’s improved signal propagation provides greater range than existing wireless solutions, meaning that more rural populations will gain access to high-speed, high-bandwidth services without having to upgrade legacy copper networks with coax or fiber. Meanwhile, urban areas will see more services pushed out to edge computing and storage facilities where they can provide real-time interactivity for a wide range of consumer and B2B applications.

5G is not a one-size-fits-all technology, however. It will affect different organizations in different ways depending on their legacy data environments and their goals for the emerging digital services economy. Madhup Mishra, VP of product management and marketing at VoltDB, pointed out recently that many firms will find they need to modernize their infrastructure with tools like in-memory databases and artificial intelligence to accommodate the expansion from thousands of connections per cell to millions. As well, expect to see today’s monolithic applications give way to microservices and continuous delivery architectures, which will invariably require new container management solutions like Kubernetes.

Let’s also not forget the back-end infrastructure needed to bring large volumes of this device-driven data to critical systems in the data center, says Kore Wireless’ Peter Van Den Houten. While much of this load will occupy the edge, some of it will need to be processed by large data analytics engines for a wide range of purposes. Unlike existing services that operate at a human cognitive level, next-generation apps will generate continuous data streams that leverage the full range of connectivity options that 5G offers. As well, many of these services will require constant availability, as in the case of autonomous cars or connected medical devices, as well as end-to-end security. 

This is why 5G represents far more than a simple network upgrade. By unleashing a wealth of new capabilities across the application spectrum, 5G brings on an entirely new era in productivity, communications and the human-data relationship.  Clearly, this cannot happen without some profound changes to legacy infrastructure and data operations, and with the 5G launch just around the corner these changes should already be in an advanced stage of development.

The last place anyone should want to be when momentous changes are afoot is behind the curve.