Can next-gen wireless help make it easier to work from home?


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There are some essential tools you need to work from home successfully including a suitable computer, reliable network and backup storage.

USA TODAY

FOSTER CITY, Calif. — Now that so many of us have become accustomed to working from home, one question that might come up is, does 5G really matter anymore? After all, most people are probably connecting to the internet, and all of their work colleagues, with their in-home Wi-Fi via a broadband connection like a cable modem. So, why would they need a different type of fast wireless connection?

Well, it turns out there are quite a few reasons, though some won’t matter much until we start to venture out a bit more.

First, as I wrote about a few weeks back (see “Can 5G become your new broadband connection?”), 5G is starting to become a more viable alternative to cable as a high-speed internet connection source. Thanks to a technology called Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), which is at the heart of Verizon’s 5G Home service, you can get a blazing fast 1 Gbps (that’s a gigabit per second) connection into your home via 5G.

The problem is, the service is limited to only a few cities in the U.S. right now. Verizon did just add Detroit last week, however, so availability is slowly starting to improve.

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AT&T recently started talking about offering a 5G-based FWA service in the future. T-Mobile is also rumored to potentially be doing the same, so there’s hope that we could start to see more options here.

With everyone in the family spending more time working at home, there’s more demand on their home Internet networks. (Photo: dragana991, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Why 5G may matter for working at home

Given that these 5G fixed wireless services can match the best download and upload speeds that cable has to offer at relatively comparable prices, 5G could provide a dramatic improvement in work-at-home options.

In addition, there has been a fair amount of discussion about using 5G to extend broadband internet services to rural areas and other places that don’t have high-speed internet. Needless to say, that would be a huge improvement for people living in those areas. Plus, with a growing number of people being given the opportunity to work from home for extended periods of time, more people have also been interested in moving to remote or rural areas.

Some type of broadband connectivity will be an essential requirement for people considering these types of moves, so 5G could end up extending the geographical locations of where people can live and work.

Even for those who live in urban areas that theoretically have better broadband coverage, connectivity can be a challenge. For example, it’s certainly not unheard of to face issues with the quality of your broadband, or even more likely, Wi-Fi congestion issues that severely limit the speed and reliability of internet connections. City dwellers living in dense environments clogged with Wi-Fi routers and hotspots often can’t get a good connection to the internet because of all the Wi-Fi traffic.

In those situations, it can make more sense to use a fast 5G cellular network as your primary means of connection and then use something like the portable hotspot feature on your smartphone (or even purchase a dedicated 5G hotspot piece of hardware) to share that connection over Wi-Fi.

In addition, for those who are privacy and security conscious, a cellular connection is generally considered to be more secure than Wi-Fi, in part because of the proliferation of Wi-Fi hacking tools. Note, however, that you may end up paying a premium for using a smartphone-based cellular connection as your primary means of internet access versus other broadband options. That’s a trade-off you may need to consider.

Working ‘at-home’ away from home

Once people start returning to their workplaces on a limited basis or just getting out to enjoy an outdoor café after having been stuck at home for months, then a 5G connection starts to take on even more value for most workers. The real beauty of having an always-on cellular connection, even on devices like PCs and tablets, is that you never have to worry about being disconnected.

A 5G-connected PC, for example, lets you truly do all your work from just about anywhere – from regular email and chats to video calls and other collaborative efforts. Plus, you never have to worry about finding the name of the Wi-Fi network, getting the password, worrying about people tapping into the Wi-Fi for nefarious purposes, etc. It’s just connected and it just works. Speaking personally, once you get used to that kind of connectivity freedom, it’s really hard to go back.

Flexibility of 5G as a back-up

The final point worth considering on 5G’s work-at-home value is that it offers a second way to connect to the internet. While that may sound like a completely unnecessary luxury to some, the truth is that our entire work, personal, and even educational lives have moved online. Plus, even as the world strives to return to some kind of new normal, many of the changes we’ve experienced are going to stick around for a long time.

So, the insurance of having another connection that can be tapped into is way more important than it used to be. In addition, the number of connected devices in every household is going to go up, so the ability to split the load and have some of those devices use a 5G connection, while others use a broadband connection, isn’t as far-fetched as it might first appear.

At this moment in time, it might seem easy to brush off 5G as relatively unimportant, but our situations are going to change – exactly how and when aren’t entirely clear, of course – and with those changes will come different needs. One thing that is certain, however, is that the need for fast, reliable internet connections are only going to grow. In that light, it’s now easy to answer the title question with a simple yes, 5G can help us work from home.

USA TODAY columnist Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. His clients are major technology firms including Microsoft, HP, Dell, Samsung and Intel. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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