With its blazing speed, higher capacity and reduced lag time, the approaching fifth generation of cellular communication technology – commonly known as “5G” – is expected to bring sweeping advancements across multiple industries and generate trillions in new economic value. What’s less certain is how quickly and how dramatically 5G will affect various sectors and what pitfalls will exist for both early adopters and those who fall behind the curve. For the real estate industry, the widespread deployment of 5G will present both challenges and opportunities over the next decade. “Whether it’s in the office or your apartment, the expectation is that 5G will bring people closer together,” said Ashkán Zandieh, Chief Intelligence Officer at CREtech. “The beauty of 5G is that it will provide new of opportunities for owners and managers to fully equip their properties with better connectivity.”
INDUSTRY IMPACT WILL BE VAST
Tech experts expect the growth of 5G to have an immediate impact on the entertainment industry, allowing video downloads in just a fraction of the time it takes today. Live broadcasts and feature-length films will stream or download glitch-free to mobile devices without the need to log on to a local wi-fi network. Yet forecasters also expect 5G to provide new, significant benefits to the manufacturing, healthcare and retail industries, and to hasten the arrival of the internet of things (IoT), connecting appliances, building systems and mobile devices to the internet in new, unimaginable ways. 5G will also allow virtual and augmented reality experiences to become a part of our every day lives. Virtual and augmented reality require connection speeds and capacity that 4G cannot effectively provide. But 5G, as a reliable, low-latency network, will allow VR and AR to succeed, thrive, and to eventually become integral pieces of major industries. The healthcare industry, for example, will be eager to adopt virtual reality to address everything from physician training and diagnosis to remote surgery and ongoing patient monitoring and care. In the manufacturing industry, AR glasses operating on a 5G network could help workers troubleshoot problems with an overlay of instructions, manuals and input from others who have overcome similar situations.
THE WALLS HAVE EYES (AND EARS AND BRAINS)
The potential for 5G to create automated connections at breakneck speeds also opens up a host of possibilities for embedded technology, transforming properties into truly “smart” buildings. Where building owners previously invested significant capital in routing high-speed cables to deliver internet connectivity, 5G cellular connections will help deliver larger amounts of data in a fraction of the time without the need for a physical conduit. But tenant demand for 5G may put new capital pressure on owners of existing assets, even new developments. “The adoption of 5G into existing buildings will not be as easy as flipping a switch,” said Dave Miller, WiredScore’s Head of Boston. “Low energy glass and other eco-friendly building materials will prevent high-frequency signals from entering a building.” Property owners may find themselves forced to install 5G Distributed Antenna Systems to provide tenants with the 5G access they will soon crave. Building owners and managers, however, will undoubtedly benefit from enhanced connectivity, soon able to offer spaces that are programmed to immediately respond to the preferences of specific tenants for lighting, window treatments, temperature, entertainment, alarm systems, access control, air quality, video conferencing and more. The ease and speed of 5G will also allow property owners to monitor critical building utilities more efficiently, linking sensors with centralized control systems and providing real-time feedback on everything from HVAC and electrical use to access points and emergency services. “Faster internet speeds will support smart and connected building capabilities, where tenants will be able to customize their office experience and will be able to integrate AI, IoT, and other technologies that require best in class connectivity,” said Miller.
PRIVACY AND SECURITY CONSIDERATIONS
5G is expected to improve security through better encryption, segmented networks and user authentication. However, the increased volume of data moving across networks – along with more devices in the IoT – could increase spying and cyberattacks by opening new opportunities for hackers to exploit weak points. Furthermore, the increased geo-locating ability with 5G will make for better mapping while potentially exposing users to more accurate tracking and posing additional privacy issues. Because data flows will increase, property owners will need to be judicious in determining what kind of data to collect and from whom as well as considering all data and privacy collection laws and regulations within their jurisdiction.
WHEN WILL REAL ESTATE REAP REWARDS?
Experts are estimating a widespread rollout of 5G networks between 2021 and 2024. While the true impact may only be felt years after that, it’s imperative that real estate owners, investors and managers begin planning and investing ahead of that horizon or risk falling behind. Companies at the forefront of the 5G movement stand to benefit by offering a product that can seamlessly connect to the digital world in a way that tenants will soon demand. But to get there, they must learn to defend against unique cybersecurity threats, understand new governmental data collection and privacy regulations, account for essential safety and accessibility considerations, and be willing to invest capital to bring outdated assets up to a connectivity standards that tenants will soon come to expect.