The pace of technological innovation has increased exponentially over the past century. It took the telephone 75 years to reach 50 million users. It took the Internet only four years to reach the same number. However, those metrics pale in comparison to the success of the smartphone game Pokémon Go, which was released in the summer of 2016. It reached 50 million users in only 19 days. With 5G networks on the horizon, user bases will continue to grow at breakneck pace.
This next-generation network will accelerate innovation in a broad set of industry verticals—including media, entertainment, healthcare, and agriculture—and each will have its own requirements and uses. Every sector will fall into one of three categories: Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Massive Internet of Things (MIoT), and Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication (uRLLC). These three standards will help usher in explosive developments in the industries that use them.
A new media paradigm: eMBB, high-speed downloads, VR and AR
Enhanced Mobile Broadband will be the most recognisable to those who’re familiar with the commonly used LTE networks and broadband internet connections. eMBB will make it seem as though our computers, smartphones, and other connected devices have been cranked into overdrive, delivering ultra-high bandwidth with a peak speed of 10Gbps (gigabytes per second) and an average speed of 1Gbps. To put things in perspective, current 4G LTE speeds peak at 50Mbps, meaning it would take a couple of hours to download a 4GB HD movie to watch at home. On a 5G network, consumers will be able to download that same movie in seconds.
While eMBB will improve lives in familiar ways, it will also begin to normalise experiences that are currently inaccessible to most people. Low latency and extremely high data throughput rates will enable better immersive experiences in virtual reality and augmented reality. In the near future, people could be wearing VR headsets that insert them into fully realized 3D worlds while AR glasses could allow users to see data displayed over real-world objects.
On average, one minute of VR consumes 1GB of data. These developments could help to revitalise a dormant, niche marketplace that’s populated with AR projects like Microsoft HoloLens, Apple devices, and now, Magic Leap. However, the public’s reaction to these technologies and the resulting numbers has been tepid due to a high barrier of entry. The confluence of several factors including price, size, graphical power and 5G network technologies could prove to be the combination that establishes VR and AR as popular media platforms.
MIoT: from smartphones to smart cities
The Massive Internet of Things (MIoT) is another area that could see a great deal of growth thanks to the 5G network. MIoT refers to the tens of billions of devices and machines that require continuous connectivity. This area encompasses smart homes, wearables, cars, and connected cities. The smart market is continuing to mature, but it can only do so gradually because of the data limitations of our current network. For MIoT, a reliable network must be operational 24/7. A momentary lapse in communication could cause service failure.
Think of the current LTE network like a two-lane road. Traffic flows, but there are limitations to how many vehicles can fit on the road and how fast they can travel. 5G networks would metaphorically represent an eight-lane superhighway. MIoT requires low bandwidth and low data rates, but the market for connected things is expected to total 48 billion devices by the year 2020, with a potential economic impact of $11 trillion by 2025.
MIoT will probably become the largest sector (measured by the number of connected devices), surpassing mobile phones. Analysts are already predicting key settings where the most value may accumulate: factories, cities, retail, and humans. MIoT will help operations management and predictive maintenance in factories. It will enable connected cities better to monitor public safety, health, traffic control, and resource management.
uRLLC: eliminating latency to save lives
The final service category for 5G networks is Ultra-Reliable, Low Latency Communication (uRLLC). Latency—the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer—is perhaps noticeable but unnameable to people uninvested in the “how” of network technology. The most common experience of latency is when people notice a slight delay when pressing a button on a TV remote to change a channel. While it can be a small but bearable annoyance to most, in scenarios where more is at stake—in particular, mission-critical IoT applications—it has hindered several applications and prevented potentially world-shaping innovations.
Autonomous vehicles, for example, have been hampered by latency. A one-second delay could literally mean life or death. Even with edge processing, self-driving cars need to transmit and receive large amounts of data in milliseconds in order to provide safe transportation. A few accidents over the past year have created an uncertain future for autonomous vehicle programs, but uRLLC 5G could help to reinforce public and governmental trust. Self-driving cars use a wide array of sensors (e.g. LIDAR, radar, computer vision, etc.) that need to register data and communicate with other networked sensors that direct its movement—some of which aren’t on the vehicle (e.g. traffic control sensors and systems and other AVs) and thus require a uRLLC network connection for near real-time feedback. 5G networks will allow significantly more data to flow between the vehicles and transportation infrastructure, helping to avoid a collision and better navigate uncertain environments.
But uRLLC’s potential applications go far beyond roads and highways. The uRLLC network will help bolster the medical community through better network reliability. Medical professionals will be able to communicate effectively with patients in remote locations that other networks fail to reach. 5G could even enable surgeons to operate robotically on patients from thousands of miles away—thanks again to the low-latency of 5G.
In industrial factories that utilise automation, robotic technology will also expand its capabilities with 5G, allowing indoor connectivity through cellular networks (private and public). Upgraded through 5G, robotic automation applications will become more lightweight and cheaper given the ease with which they can interface with cloud platforms. Machinery, cars, and other components will be assembled at more complicated points where humans previously had to take control. This process, known as “hyper automation,” will fundamentally change how industrial assembly operates. It will create new job opportunities while reducing costs thanks to less labour and improved efficiency.
5G is a boon for business
Over the past century, technology has improved from a steady to rapid pace. Telecommunications has been a focal point of this rapid evolution. The more people that are born into this world, the more ways we develop to connect them. And with the advent of 5G, growth and innovation will change from rapid to explosive for the aforementioned sectors, but the transformation won’t stop there. Other industries such as entertainment, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and transportation will follow a similar growth trajectory thanks to this new network and its delivery systems.
5G presents unprecedented opportunities for innovation and for developing strategic business differentiation. The next-generation network will enable industries to transform their business and to deliver rich, immersive experiences to their customers. There has been no better time to collaborate, transform, and innovate.