Mobile phone trends have followed a familiar pattern for years: Consumers become accustomed to a new feature, usually starting with their personal lives. Then they begin adopting the behavior in their work lives. For example, if they can check personal email on the go, they can also check work email. Same with texting and social media. And why not watch that training video while taking a walk, rather than from your desk?

The advent of 5G, however, could flip that dynamic on its head, with enterprise use cases rather than consumers being the entry point for the new generation of mobile connectivity. Because 5G can solve real problems for enterprises, often in more contained use environments, they are primed to lead the way in early use cases. Once they do, consumers will get a taste for what’s possible and begin to see more clearly the potential for personal use.

What consumers say

What we do know from a recent PwC survey is that consumers throughout the country are now well aware of 5G: awareness currently nudges 80%. Consumers value the improvements that 5G promises, such as faster, more reliable mobile service. However, they’re still unsure about paying additional monthly fees for what they perceive as incremental improvements.

Meanwhile, they’re intrigued by the potential of emerging tech innovations such as AR and VR apps for sports and concerts, hologram video calling, and near-instantaneous video downloads. However, they’re not convinced of the day-to-day relevance or value of these innovations just yet.

The relevance for enterprise, however, is clear — and current. 5G networks can assist with real problems enterprises are trying to solve. Because widespread 5G is still a few years out (expect full realization around 2023), operators are well advised to embark on enterprise options as the way to drive near-term business which will help them to eventually reach consumers.

3 main advantages

How can telcos best showcase 5G’s full potential? Successful 5G deployments will highlight its three main advantages:

  1. High bandwidth capacity to enable rapid data-transfer for massive files, such as high- definition videos.
  2. Low latency, allowing for rapid response times, thus eliminating lag in video games, blended-reality environments and IoT functionality for a more fluid experience.
  3. Mobility, which allows the network to run smoothly without being disconnected no matter where the connected device moves within a contained space.

It’s projected that 5G mobile device penetration in the United States will barely nudge 2 percent by July 2020. Given this, it is our view that in the near term, 5G deployments will be most effective in delivering results in densely-populated geographic locations with clear boundaries, particularly those with controlled sets of devices managed by an enterprise.

Contained environments such as theme parks, arenas, hotels and resorts, shopping malls, restaurants, office buildings, warehouses, and city centers serve as an excellent starting point. These environments have the potential to define unique, immersive experiences that take advantage of the technologies 5G can power, including virtual and augmented reality or high-definition screens. Industrial manufacturing offers a strong use case as IoT devices become increasingly prevalent in factories and warehouses. Below are a few examples:

1. Theme parks

Theme parks present an optimal opportunity to create demand for 5G because they attract visitors from around the country who seek, above all else, to be entertained during their vacations. They’re also self-contained areas, typically no bigger than a few square miles. In addition to powering VR and AR rides, a 5G network can equip employees with capabilities such as AR glasses that utilize facial recognition to load customer preferences in real-time — thus personalizing the overall experience for each guest, as employees dressed as the guest’s favorite character welcome them to the facility. 5G can also power the Internet of Things (IoT), enabling automated facility management. Smart trash cans or rat traps with sensors, for instance, can notify workers when bins need to be emptied.

2. Smart factories

IoT will continue to pick up speed at smart factories as connected technology replaces legacy systems in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Working in tandem, IoT devices and sensors can feed into multi-access edge computing (in which storage and processing occurs closer to the source of the data) to detect and deal with issues as they occur. 5G can connect an entire manufacturing facility via a single network, providing the speed, latency, and mobility necessary for efficient, secure, cost-effective operations. As 5G becomes more ubiquitous, envision a future in which smart helmets and glasses are commonplace throughout smart factories because they can deliver seamless connectivity in what would be out-of-range areas before 5G, making them standalone devices in their own right.

3. Smart cities

5G paves the way for smart cities with its ability to support as many as 1 million devices within one square kilometer. The city of Las Vegas, an early adopter, has already begun investing in smart infrastructure as part of a larger initiative that includes 5G networks. The city plans to create its own private mobile network with an initial launch scheduled for summer 2020. Instead of live patrols, infrared cameras will track movement in city parks, alerting law enforcement when unwelcome visitors trigger sensors. As edge computing shrinks processing time, the city’s more ambitious 5G plans include smart ambulances and intelligent streets that can communicate with connected cars.

The shift to accommodate enterprises will allow operators to expand their reach while also illustrating the benefits of 5G to a wider consumer population. Once consumers are able to see for themselves what’s possible, they are far more likely to acknowledge and value the relevance of 5G in their daily lives. The next generation of wireless technology will indeed be transformative — eventually. It just won’t happen without compelling use cases along the way. Today, those are enterprise use cases.