How 5G Will Change Data Centers

The anticipation of 5G wireless technology has increased every year since the release of 4G. The demand for streaming services, artificial intelligence and other bandwidth-heavy applications has gone up significantly, which is driving demand for faster speeds and less latency.
5G technology could bring a possible latency of one millisecond, at speeds from 1Gbs to 10Gbps, which is a 10x to 100x improvement over 4G and 4.5G LTE technologies. Intriguing new technologies such as augmented reality, autonomous driving cars, and the explosion of IoT will benefit from the higher speeds and lower latency of 5G technology.
However, what’s the cost of this improvement in technology? From an end user’s experience, thought is rarely given to the infrastructure and the work that’s done behind the scenes, or on the backend of their endpoint’s connection to the Internet.
From a data center perspective, how will 5G affect the day in and day out operations and planning that go into managing and maintaining a data center? While the thought of increased speeds, extremely low latency and IoT expansion is exciting, it’s important to take a holistic approach to how 5G technology will impact the data center.

Data Center Construction Must Evolve

4G technology is geared toward a “one to one” methodology. When user’s endpoint device is connected to a tower, it will transition to the next nearest tower as their location changes. This provides the user with the experience they would expect from 4G or 4.5G LTE connections.
5G connectivity will introduce the idea of “many to one” methodology as it relates to wireless connectivity. The user’s endpoint device will need to communicate with many towers or antennas at the same time in order to deliver higher speeds and lower latency. This will require more towers and antennas, which will require more data centers.
The construction of an “edge data center” will put the user’s data much closer and will process it locally to provide the expected 5G high speed/low latency experience. This process circumvents the need for the user’s data to traverse the cloud and back. This will help for use cases like streaming services.
The way in which we build these new data centers and retrofit the old ones will also need to adapt to meet the demands of 5G. For example, the “Three Musketeers” of the data center — power, space and cooling — will need to be revamped. 5G networks could demand up to 100x more resources than the typical 4G network.
Overall, more resources means more equipment, power and space requirements. In order to meet the specifications of a 5G ready data center, environmental impact needs to be analyzed. The increase in resources and requirements to build and/or retrofit a data center for 5G readiness could have a negative impact on emissions and carbon footprint.
While most data centers do their due diligence in creating an environmentally friendly building, architects today will need to rely heavily on environmental efficiency when building the data center of tomorrow. It’s likely that Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications will become less of a suggestion and more of a requirement for data centers as 5G adoption becomes widespread.

Staffing Becomes a Priority

With the need for new data center construction and the increase in data center resources, staffing the data center will also become a priority. Having the right personnel on the job will make the transition to 5G much easier.
The focus for staffing within a 5G data center should be based on those with prior 4G/4.5G LTE experience. The talent pool for 5G data center work will be relatively small, because 5G is still yet to come, and those that are equipped to handle the transition are maintaining 4G infrastructures.
The desire to lead the pack with 5G adoption and readiness won’t translate to every customer in the market. There will be some who will stick with 4G until the newest technology matures. Therefore, poaching data center technicians from 4G projects for work on 5G buildouts could impact an organization’s bottom line and alienate their 4G customer base. Since 5G is expected near 2020, less than a year from now, it would be advantageous to begin recruiting and training new employees to focus on the rollout of 5G. It will be necessary to maintain a 4G presence, while planning for and promoting a newer 5G network.

5G-Ready Data Centers Will Have a Competitive Edge

Although some changes to infrastructure and staffing may be necessary, the race to be 5G ready will produce good market competition. Those data centers that are first to be 5G ready will hold a competitive edge over other data centers when customers are shopping for colocation.
Today’s 4G technology operates in or around the 1 GHz frequency spectrum, while 5G operates at the 28 and 39 GHz frequency. This allows for large quantities of data to traverse the frequency at a very low latency rate.
Marketing teams will have no problem creating a campaign that spotlights these enhancements over 4G. Organizations that bring 5G to market first will have a competitive edge, but won’t necessarily hold on to it. Early adopters do exist, but the market is much more saturated with consumers and organizations that rely heavily on tested and stable technologies, such as 4G LTE. Over time, 5G will improve, and eventually 4G will be deprecated, much like 3G has become.
New technology is exciting, especially when it enhances the quality of life and improves the way things are done. 5G will revolutionize the way in which we consume data, as IoT continues to grow and our demand for data consumption increases.
The anticipation of new technology can equate to anxiety for those that are tasked with bringing that technology to their customers. Don’t run before you can walk, take a deep breath and plan for 5G. There’s a lot that needs to be analyzed before a solid plan for 5G can be put in place.