IT Brief Australia - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
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5G is a backup connectivity breakthrough
Wed, 6th Oct 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Australia's telcos are fast ramping up their 5G network rollouts to achieve greater population coverage and reach.

Early adopters are reporting promising speed results of over one gigabit per second on the downlink in some Australian geographies, on par with or exceeding the peak performance of fixed-line services.

That's important because one of the biggest use cases of 5G for business is not as a primary connection but for diversity — as a backup connection for failover if the main fixed-line service used by a business goes down.

Even today, businesses often pay for two fixed-line corporate internet services from two different carriers, providing them with route and service provider diversity if one of the services has an outage. This ensures they can work around issues that would otherwise be disruptive to their operations.

With the advent of 5G comes a new option for businesses wanting a backup internet service. Instead of paying for that second fixed-line service, they can instead provide a 5G service and cut traffic across it as and when necessary.

With roots in residential

Cellular failover for a fixed-line connection is now a common feature of residential broadband plans. Customers often receive a modem that can support both the main fixed-line connection and then a secondary 4G service if needed.

The 4G service cuts in automatically if the fixed-line service starts to stumble; ideally, the cutover is seamless, and customers do not notice the transition.

In practice, the cutover is likely to be obvious, however, because a fixed-line service and a 4G service offer vastly different speeds and performance.

The 4G service is likely to be slower than the fixed-line, and users will notice the difference in browsing speeds, especially with more intensive bandwidth-hungry uses of internet services.

That may be acceptable to a residential user but is not fit-for-purpose for the business and enterprise market; thus, most businesses have traditionally opted to run dual fibre connections as primary and secondary links, as opposed to a fixed-line and cellular combination.

Why 5G is turning heads

The characteristics of 5G make it better-suited to act as a backup connectivity solution for the business market. 5G offers superior capacity and resilience, especially in metropolitan areas.

The 5G experience is on-par with a fixed-line service. Customers will not know when a site flips from a fixed-line primary connection to a 5G-based secondary connection. There will be no noticeable difference in the downlink or uplink speeds because 5G is fixed-line comparable.

It also offers admirable in-building performance compared to previous generations of cellular technology. Due to higher capacities and better overall technology, 5G is also becoming a popular consideration for SD-WAN deployments.

Organisations are looking for a quick turnkey solution that provides similar outcomes to traditional MPLS networks. With 5G and SD-WAN products combined, users can achieve fast and reliable connectivity to their corporate or SD-WAN network.

In addition, 5G is also an excellent choice as the secondary link for SD-WAN for larger enterprises to support the higher capacity primary links.

Cost competitive 

Increasingly, today, the cost per megabit of 5G services is appealing. For the same amount one would previously have paid for a 4G-only service, one can now get 5G.

5G services can also be ordered and provisioned quickly — in minutes instead of the days or weeks it typically takes to get a business fibre connection.

All of this is now translating into action. A recent research report by Ericsson pointed to an Australian construction firm that is using 5G for “large-site failover, replacing expensive backup fibre line with 5G, gaining fibre-like speeds with the diversity of a wireless connection.

This experience is mirrored in our own customer base. In a world of hybrid office-remote work models, and where internet-enabled applications are the norm, businesses need resilient connectivity to maintain an always-on and performant experience. As a network aggregator, we're packaging fibre and (mostly Telstra) 5G services to give business customers what they're looking for.

A primary purpose

While most of the business demand for 5G is currently focused on it as a secondary or backup connection, we can't completely disregard that 5G may also be useful as a primary source of connectivity in certain scenarios.

For example, 5G may suit a remote worker as a primary connectivity option. It could also be appealing to a smaller branch or temporary site such as a pop-up retail location, where the cost and lead time to provision a traditional fixed-line service may rule it out as a viable option.

Another possible use case for 5G as a primary network connection is for edge computing. While most organisations draw data back from the ‘edge' to a centralised point, in the future, more of this processing will occur at the ‘edge' where the data is created — thereby cutting the time to generate actionable insights from that data.

In addition, SD-WAN has become an interesting technology choice for edge computing. For reliable connectivity back to centralised workloads, 5G can play a significant role in supporting SD-WAN networks as the primary or secondary connections.
In summary, 5G services offer the high throughput needed to ensure edge computing environments can quickly ingest data from multiple sources and communicate outcomes from that analysis. Moving into 2022, it's also appealing due to its applicability around SD-WAN technologies.