5G is coming, but the cloud is not going away (yet)


The pixels had barely dried on my recent blog post about all the high-paying cloud jobs available now and in the future when I stumbled across a Forbes column speculating that 5G “could kill the cloud.”

Investment advisor Jon Markham argues in his Forbes piece that “5G is so fast that it changes what is possible with networks.”

“In tests, 5G has been shown to be 200 times faster than LTE, the current standard wireless protocol,” Markham writes. “Nominally, that means downloading an entire high-definition movie in seconds, not minutes.”

It also means the latency that can plague enterprise apps and network-connected processes essentially will disappear. However, given that 5G is far from ubiquitous — Verizon rolled it out in four U.S. cities in October 2018 — it will be a few years before everyone everywhere is hurtling down the cyberspace fast lane.

Markham predicts that while 5G and cloud-computing networks initially will coexist, “Longer term, blazing-fast wireless networks have the potential to eliminate the cloud as a computing platform.”

I understand where he’s coming from. Cloud computing exists only because it fills a need in local and global networks. If something comes along that fills a certain need better — more efficiently, at lower cost, and preferably both — it inevitably will replace the previous technology, even if that technology still works.

Inevitability, though, doesn’t mean tomorrow, next year, or even a decade from now. Despite its slower-than-anticipated rollout, 5G should be commonly available 10 years from now. But so will cloud computing. Companies have made investments in the cloud; more importantly, the cloud is helping organizations deliver data and services reliably while lowering IT costs. Since change can be disruptive, many IT and business decision-makers will be slow to abandon the cloud — that is, until (and unless) 5G renders the cloud unnecessary.

And that’s another issue: We really don’t know how long it will take for 5G to be widely deployed and for standards to be implemented by device manufacturers. As Government Technology contributor Elizabeth Zima wrote last year, not only will implementation of 5G standards take time, telcos will need to upgrade their wireless infrastructures, particularly by installing new antennas to compensate for the limited distance of 5G frequencies. Further, fiber networks need to be upgraded and expanded to provide the backbone needed for true 5G performance.

None of that is happening overnight, so if you have a cloud-related job or would like one, you don’t have to reskill just yet. In fact, as I wrote before, cloud professionals are in high demand in 2019 and will be going forward, even as 5G slowly begins penetrating large and mid-tier markets.

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