What is 5G? Despite TeleComs operators at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona committing to it by 2020 – and some as early as 2018 – it’s not clear exactly how fast 5G is. The average mobile phone user ought to get about a gigabyte per second bandwidth, but others say it could be as much as 10Gbps. So who, exactly, has been complaining about 4G speeds?
Nobody, that’s who, but that doesn’t mean that fifth-gen wireless broadband can’t enable new services, and even birth new business models. It can, and it will, change how the digital world works. Here’s how.
1 – Vehicle-vehicle communications
Perhaps autonomous cars is the killer app for 5G, because it’s hard to see how the sci-fi visions of driverless vehicles can exist without an instant link between each vehicle, and between vehicles and the road infrastructure. Cue 5G, which boasts a latency of less than a single millisecond. For comparison, 4G has around a 40 millisecond delay. So when a driverless car breaks suddenly, or swerves to avoid something in the road, it tells the cars behind it so they can adjust their speed safely with superhuman reactions. That requires 5G; 4G doesn’t even come close to cutting it.
With 5G, autonomous cars could also swap live video feeds of different perspectives on road conditions. However, this does bring-up the issue of network priority. After all, we don’t want autonomous cars delaying their breaking manoeuvres because the humans on-board were downloading a 4K film or sending a hi-res selfie
2 – Remote tele-surgery
5G will enable augmented reality so quickly that real-time data can be acted upon to save lives. It does require a leap in surgical robotics, but in theory 5G’s super-quick latency – one millisecond is about the same as the human brain – will allow surgical procedures to be conducted remotely. For instance, if a specialist is in London and the patient is in Manchester, real-time brain scan images from a patient could create a virtual clone for a surgeon to operate on. Put that scenario into rural Africa or Australia and even relatively simple life-saving procedures could be possible. It could be wheels-down for the Flying Doctors.
3 – Cloud robotics
Industrial robots are dumb. Sure, they do complex tasks with a high level accuracy, but that’s about all they do. With super-fast and, crucially, super reliable 5G connections, they will be able to collect data on movements, temperature, proximity and even air quality, and upload it all to the cloud instantly. That’s where the fun stars, because a 5G-enabled cloud means unlimited storage space, processing power, artificial intelligence, and real-time predictive analytics galore. The robots will remain dumb, but the 5G cloud will become super-smart, and where all software resides. 5G will also make even large software updates or overhauls or entire infrastructures of industrial IoT devices a quick and simple procedure.
4 – ‘Always on’ smart buildings – and a smarter mobile network
5G is principally about creating a smarter, not a faster network. So just like with driverless cars getting priority for their mission-critical data, so will smart building technologies like fire, earthquake and gunfire-detection technology need to be first in the queue in their cell. It’s OK to have a smart building system ping the network every second while everything is normal, but the millisecond something happens its emergency systems need to take priority. Either way, the smart building is about to come alive.
5 – Stadium connectivity & virtual reality
Ever tried to use your phone in a packed stadium? Not even 4G allows that, but with 5G everything will change. Think live 4K multi-casting of live video feeds from different camera positions around the stadium to every phone in the house. Expect ticket-holders to share their experience via 360-degree virtual reality 4K video streams to others … isn’t that what Facebook’s obsession with Oculas Rift is really all about?