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It’s already well established that next-generation wireless technologies are going to become ubiquitous over the next few years, but just how important will 5G and Wi-Fi 6 be to enterprises? A new Deloitte study of advanced wireless adoption provides an unambiguous answer: “critical” within three years, according to strong majorities of executives responsible for enterprise networking infrastructure. Those executives expect not just an incremental upgrade, but a “significant opportunity to transform how their enterprises operate, as well as the products and services they offer.”

According to Deloitte, 86% of surveyed networking executives expect these technologies to transform their organizations within three years, and 79% expect the same transformations of their industries. Of the two technologies, 76% believe 5G cellular will be critical, while 70% said the same about Wi-Fi 6. A solid 57% majority are already adopting one if not both of the technologies, while another 37% plan to do so within a year.

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are viewed as connectivity enablers — “force multipliers” — for cloud/edge computing, AI, and internet of things deployments. Ninety-five percent say that advanced wireless networking is either “very” or “extremely” important to their organization’s use of cloud technologies, with data analytics at 91%, AI at 84%, and an 83% tie for edge computing and IoT applications.

But concerns about the security and providers of next-generation networking solutions loom large for enterprises, as 56% of the surveyed executives called security their top challenge in adoption, and 75% said they would reconsider their service providers. Around 80% expect to primarily deploy their apps and services on either public (64%) or private (36%) clouds, with a majority trusting traditional cloud providers over their own enterprises to manage cloud data.

It’s worth noting that Deloitte’s survey took place in the first quarter of 2020, when COVID-19 infections were spreading but before the U.S. felt economic impacts from the pandemic — a factor that the firm says could accelerate or decelerate wireless deployments, depending on the company and industry. While 5G is expected to enable remote work through sharing of high-bandwidth images, videos, and 3D/XR content, Wi-Fi 6 could “free workers from wired connections and desktop phones,” as well as increasing the speed and quality of voice and video applications.

Deloitte’s survey canvassed 415 IT and line-of-business executives, with 48% at the C-level, 20% at VP or business unit head level, and 32% at director level, spread across companies with annual revenues ranging from $250 million to over $5 billion and across six industries. Interestingly, the effort to move towards 5G and Wi-Fi 6 isn’t just coming from IT chiefs: 48% of CEOs/presidents and 29% of other C-level executives ranked among the top three people at each organization leading the charge towards new wireless technologies, signaling the level of strong business-level interest in adoption.

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