Then the coronavirus hit.
5G is expected to enable technologies like automated factories and remote augmented reality training, the usefulness of which is even more apparent in an era of social distancing and working from home.
Where are the companies located?
Most network operators recognized that the coronavirus created some obstacles to 5G’s physical construction, at least from the start.
Solving complex engineering problems and installing new cell sites, for example, is more difficult when workers must maintain social distancing and city permit offices are closed.
“It has certainly delayed a few things as people are discovering business processes: Operators are adjusting to a time when people cannot be together and the engineers who were there doing it have to be in a different environment. Everson said.
AT&T continues “going through some delays” as a result of the coronavirus, a company spokesperson told CNN Business. (CNN’s parent company WarnerMedia is owned by AT&T.)
However, both companies said the delays have been shorter.
“Our operations teams and our performance teams are finding new ways to test,” said LaCroix. “Where previously we would have had a couple of people working together, we are finding creative ways to make that social detachment, using PPE, as we make sure we are ready for launch.”
“Our network construction continues and is underway,” T-Mobile said in a statement to CNN Business. “We are still moving very quickly to merge T-Mobile and Sprint networks, and continue to build 5G across the country.”
The 5G release was perhaps better positioned to withstand disruption of the coronavirus than previous network updates, thanks to improvements in network technology, Cisco’s Everson said.
Network operators are increasingly moving towards greater use of “software defined networks”. This means that, in some cases, when the network infrastructure needs to be updated, it can be done remotely through the software, instead of requiring the replacement of physical parts of the system.
“We’ve done a little bit of work with the operators, where you can go through a cell site construction process that would normally take eight hours to several days, and through automation, the operator just shuts down, hangs up the radio and connects, and it automatically appears, “said Everson. “It makes it a 15-minute process. The more that can be done, the faster we can implement it.”