5G: The game changing fuel behind the fourth industrial revolution
Game changers: 5G
We are currently in a time of technological complexity and constant change. It can be tempting to try to adopt every new emerging technology, but that will ultimately lead to ‘SaaS mess’ and just as easy, would be to ignore it all and potentially fall behind the competition. In this series of articles, we’ll look at the emerging technology and the compelling events on the horizon that are going to change the game – infinitely.
In the last few years, we have seen a growing number of cases on how 5G is being applied across various sectors and industries. From health and social care to immersive gaming, the latest generation in cellular networks promises to push the boundaries of what is possible in both our professional and personal lives. Its potential power to create a safer, smarter, and more sustainable future means that we are on the threshold of something remarkable.
Essentially, this means a faster connection speed that a wider range of devices can be connected to at the same time, with users also experiencing less delay between data exchanges e.g., pressing a button and seeing a change on the screen. Qualcomm have already stated that 5G is designed to deliver a peak data rate of up to 20Gbps, which would be 20 times faster than the most powerful 4G connection. With a connection as strong as that, innovative minds have already begun to formulate what they can achieve with 5G. In fact, we’re already seeing what it can achieve.
As outlined by the ITU Radiocommunication Sector, 5G has been defined as having three main application areas:
Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB)
Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC)
Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC)
5G in an urban environment
The UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs published their ‘2018 Revision of World Urbanisation Prospects’ and stated how 68% of the world population will be living in urban areas by 2050. This increase can only be managed through sustainable development, which must be designed to meet the needs of an urban population. Creating an infrastructure that can support the delivery of basic services is a challenge that all urban areas face over the coming years. This has, in turn, inspired the rise of ‘smart cities’.
Cities and built-up areas across the world have already begun to embrace smart technologies, with 5G playing its part in helping to improve people’s livelihoods. In 2021, for example, West Midlands 5G worked with various authorities in the West Midlands to develop the UK’s first 5G-connected tram. Operators were able to collect real-time data from CCTV cameras to ensure persistent passenger safety and reduce congestion across its service. A wider deployment of 5G-connected trams can potentially utilise on-board sensors to report faults in carriages and the wider infrastructure, further improving the overall service.
In New Zealand, Spark and Auckland Transport partnered with one another to install 5G in the city’s central business district. Infrastructure, which included lighting, parking sensors, and smart benches with charging capabilities, was powered by the ‘Internet of Things’, with the goal being to demonstrate the significant contribution 5G can bring. Heat maps for foot traffic can be generated with smart lighting, revealing the ‘choke points’ that need to be taken into consideration when planning for urban expansion. With Spark CEO Jolie Hodson saying that 5G will assist in [New Zealand’s] transition to a high-tech, low-carbon economy, there’s no wonder why Spark are already accelerating 5G rollout across the country.
Deploying 5G in urban environments requires extensive testing to build a future-proof infrastructure. Through 5G-VICTORI, this pan-European project sought to conduct large scale trials in the cities of Bristol, Berlin, Alba-Iulia, and Patras, with the purpose being to demonstrate how 5G can transform services in various sectors. The Roman Municipality of Alba-Iulia implemented 5G infrastructure within the mobility and energy industries, showcasing how 5G-powered solutions could deliver multiple benefits to the local populace. Among them included the ability to identify threats to public safety on transport links, and the capture of real-time energy data to measure consumption levels.
5G will prove to be a key component in the future layouts of our urban areas, enabling planners to gain insights into how they can manage the needs of the inhabitants. A 5G-powered transport system is essential in easing congestion and providing a better experience for consumers. Smart cities will continue to adopt cutting-edge technologies to create a better standard of life for citizens. But while an easier commute does sound desirable, there are other needs which are far more desirable; say, a stronger healthcare system.
Cities and built-up areas across the world have already begun to embrace smart technologies, with 5G playing its part in helping to improve people’s livelihoods.
Delivering optimised healthcare with 5G
The onset of a global pandemic put a strain on every aspect of society, and healthcare was by far the sector that felt the most pressure. Humanity’s latest crisis meant healthcare providers needed to implement immediate changes in how they operated, as more emphasis was placed on delivering a digitally driven service. 5G has been helping to play a role in this integral transformation of healthcare.
China found itself right in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the authorities desperate to contain the spread as quickly as possible. Measures, such as the deployment of 12 5G-powered ‘Cloud Robots’, were taken to turn the tide against the pandemic. These robots were developed by CloudMinds and supplied to Wuhan Wuchang Hospital to carry out duties that included delivering food, monitoring vital signs, and disinfecting the ward. Only through a fast and reliable network was this feat of healthcare excellence achieved.
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, 5G was already transforming the healthcare sector. In 2018, Liverpool became the home of Europe’s first 5G supported health trial, aimed at answering the question on whether 5G could give sufficient health care in a digitally deprived area. The Liverpool 5G Testbed created a privately owned 5G mesh network, built on existing fibre, that was installed on streetlights to provide easy access from the comfort of one’s own home. The 11 new technologies were supported by 5G tech, including devices to address loneliness, VR headsets to provide palliative care, and a pharmacy video link to enable people to take medicine safely at home. Overall, the project demonstrated an improvement in health outcomes, while also providing a framework on how to improve upon future adoption.
Analysis like this, when coupled with location tracking, can also allow authorities to track possible signs of infection from a fast-spreading virus, which would give potentially infected individuals an early warning sign. While the ethical concern around tracking citizens does present a problem, 5G still has the power to revolutionise the way we manage our health daily. Providing a higher level of healthcare is a goal that can be reached with adopting 5G technologies. Automating common duties can ease pressure on healthcare providers, giving them time to explore the potential of other innovations, such as telemedicine.
5G can help address healthcare inequalities by giving patients the chance to access services from their own home and still receive real-time advice on taking care of themselves. With our wearables providing further insights, healthcare advisors are awash with data that can give these professionals a clearer picture of someone’s health. Yet there is one concern; how do people in urban areas access this enhanced healthcare, or any 5G services in general?
One market that will benefit from integrating 5G into healthcare are wearables. It’s becoming easier to embed monitors that track a wearer’s pulse, blood pressure, and their breathing, providing insights into sleep patterns and stress levels.
Patients suffering with chronic health conditions can utilise a 5G connection to receive real-time feedback from healthcare providers, who can assure patients that everything is normal or that they should seek emergency assistance.
With our wearables providing further insights, healthcare advisors are awash with data that can give these professionals a clearer picture of someone’s health.
5G’s impact on the rural landscape
The ‘digital divide’ between urban and rural areas has been closing over the last few decades, but factors such as infrastructure and basic digital skills, still present a problem. Mobile signal blindspots are prevalent, and steps need to be taken to make sure everyone has the chance to enjoy the benefits that 5G can bring. Whether it’s access to healthcare or innovative new ways to work, rural communities must be given the opportunity to enjoy the spoils of 5G.
The UK government has been proactive in addressing this issue, with plans in place to provide 5G connectivity to the countryside. Ending ‘the plague of patchy and poor mobile signals’, as former Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said, would include making masts wider and taller to accommodate more equipment, turbocharging the delivery of the £1bn Shared Rural Network to expand 4G coverage and subsequently speed up the rollout of next-gen 5G networks. Indeed, better connectivity opens the possibility for a larger uptake in hybrid working, which most businesses have accepted as the ‘new norm’ in working. Building an infrastructure that supports the capabilities of 5G brings rural communities up to speed with more urban areas.
Projects, such as 5G Wales Unlocked, have already demonstrated 5G’s impact on rural communities, with Monmouthshire and Blaenau Gwent gaining access to 5G. Focused upon 5G’s impact on development areas like security for rural businesses and immersive tourism, this project sought to prove the benefits of 5G investment and further close the digital divide across Britain. Implementing immersive hybrid solutions in the classroom can revolutionise education and collecting transport data can improve the reliability of transport links in these rural areas. With West Mercia, Dorset, and North Yorkshire also trialling 5G projects, there’s no doubt that 5G can change these communities for the better.
It’s worth focusing on the rural economy, particularly the agricultural sector. In 2019 alone, farming cost an estimated $350billion in the United States, with demand for products rising during a time of growing concern over food security. Companies like John Deere have already unveiled a fully autonomous tractor equipped with cameras powered by AI, with 5G connectivity playing a huge role in its abilities to cut costs. Sensors connected to a 5G network can deliver real-time data on variables such as temperature and moisture, making crop management more efficient at a time when sustainability is key. Even 5G-enabled drones can capture images of farmland to analyse soil quality and determine whether fertiliser is required. Once again, 5G proves its worth in empowering the rural landscape.
Closing the digital divide is just one of the benefits 5G can bring to rural areas. The eradication of blindspots can give workers the opportunity to operate remotely from their place of work, while the agricultural sector can reap the benefits of a cost-effective methodology in farming.
Advancing farming techniques can certainly help to create sustainable farms that must feed the growing population — a population that will want to integrate 5G into their daily lives.
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Our daily lives, empowered by 5G
5G has already demonstrated its transformational power across numerous aspects of our lives, but what can it do to enrich our personal lives? A faster connection enables remote working, and actionable insights from real-time data eases the burden of commuting, yet 5G still has more to deliver. As with any technology, when applied to certain processes, the boundaries of what’s possible are pushed to the very limit.
Our homes can benefit greatly from the fast speeds and reduced latency that 5G can bring. With multiple devices being able to connect over short distances at high speed, the IoT sector will benefit greatly from an expanded network as we develop the idea of the ‘smart home’. Interconnected devices that can, for example, optimise power and water usage makes these types of home much more energy-efficient, leading to reduced energy bills in the future. The reduced latency also means that home security systems display livestreams on mobile devices faster and allow a more immediate response in case it must be taken. With 5G, people have more power over their homes.
Automated vehicles are another innovation that can become more commonplace in our lives. A 5G network not only allows vehicles to make independent decisions, but also communicate with other devices that are also on the network. The ability to sense hazards and other unexpected obstacles much farther in advance gives an extra degree of safety with autonomous vehicles. Their ability to connect with multiple sensors across cities that have already deployed 5G-enabled devices create the opportunities to introduce further measures such as more streamlined traffic management and smart parking. To have a self-driving car would certainly be a major change to how we go about our daily lives.
Integrating 5G into our homes is a logical step if we are to create a higher standard of living. Not only can we maintain our security and cut expenses, but people can enjoy a higher degree of home entertainment with supercharged VR experiences. The rise of automated vehicles gives a brand-new perspective on how we commute day-to-day, with 5G enabling a safer and less stressful drive. It seems far too good to be true.
Watch: John Dunican, Director of MVNO & Carrier Services at Three UK talk 5G game changing technology
Final thoughts on 5G
In 2020, Accenture ran a survey of more than 2600 businesses and technology decision makers, finding that approximately 80% of respondents will have a significant impact on their organisation. The 57% who called it ‘revolutionary’ may have just used the right word, with 5G already changing the way we interact with the world around us. It’s worth noting that 35% of those included in Accenture’s survey expressed security concerns, which is a reasonable criticism to make. Significant steps have been made over the last few years to protect consumer privacy, and it’s certain that further regulations will be introduced to ensure everyone on the 5G network is safe and secure.
What is evident is that 5G has already begun to change the way we work and live our lives, with smart cities providing a framework of how future planners can build a more sustainable society. Applying 5G networks to transport networks, healthcare systems, and even agriculture can all contribute towards this goal of sustainability, which brings with it a higher standard of living for us and future generations.
With a greater number of workers opting to work remotely, a stronger, faster, and more reliable network creates an environment that promotes collaboration.
Credit: Ben Goscomb