Fifth generation (5G) wireless technology is coming, and it promises to change the way we access and use unified communications (UC) services. While 4G/LTE offers theoretical download speeds of up to 1Gbps, 5G promises to deliver speeds of 10Gbps to 20Gbps with a maximum latency of 4 milliseconds. It also creates the perception of 99.999 percent availability and 100 percent coverage by leveraging the capabilities of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard.

All of this is expected to have a big impact on mobile UC. Currently there is a significant gap between UC services delivered over a corporate network and UC accessed via broadband cellular. While organizations can manage their wired and wireless networks to ensure quality of service, broadband cellular is subject to dead zones and latency that can degrade voice and video quality and result in dropped connections.

With 5G, mobile users should enjoy a high-quality UC experience with adequate performance for video collaboration and other rich UC services. Organizations will be able to expand their use of UC while relieving the demands on their Wi-Fi networks.

Now, theoretical speeds are just that — existing 4G/LTE services can only reach their maximum download speeds under ideal conditions. However, early trials of 5G show promise. Before the Indianapolis 500 motor race in May, Ericsson, Intel and Verizon conducted a test of 5G technology in a car travelling 60 miles per hour. The companies sent a video stream of the track to a virtual reality (VR) headset worn by the driver, achieving data download speeds of 6.4Gbps.

5G isn’t just a boon to UC. Experts say that high-performance wireless connectivity will enable organizations to bring VR, 3-D video and other advanced applications to virtually any location. For example, 3-D video could enable doctors to see a patient and direct medical care remotely, while VR could allow engineers to see inside a damaged structure to determine whether it’s safe to perform repairs.

The low power requirements and near-universal connectivity of 5G is expected to have a significant impact on the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) calls 5G an IoT platform that enables massive and critical machine-type communication. It will give organizations greater flexibility in the placement of IoT devices, and support the data communications needed for autonomous cars, “smart cities” infrastructure and many other IoT applications.

In February, the ITU published a draft report on the technical requirements for 5G in preparation for finalizing the standard in 2018. In addition to the minimum peak downlink data rate of 20Gbps, 5G mobile cells must support at least 1 million connected devices per square kilometer and high-speed vehicular access of up to 500 kilometers per hour.

Although the final standard won’t be released until 2018, some carriers have promised to introduce “pre-5G” solutions this year. Commercial launch is expected in 2019, with an anticipated 1 million global connections. By 2025, 5G global connections will increase to 1.4 billion, according to Juniper Research.

5G is a disruptive technology, a game-changer that will alter the landscape of mobile connectivity, UC and the IoT. IPC’s experts are keep a close eye on 5G developments, and will be ready to help customers develop a strategy that takes advantage of the latest connectivity options.