Yet, many consumers and business leaders do not know how 5G works or how it could impact their daily lives across a variety of applications, such as gaming, video streaming and autonomous vehicles, and even in industrial, corporate and medical use cases.
What Makes 5G?
5G is a new wireless technology that promises faster speeds and lower latency and springs from many complex standards. Carriers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), such as cellular device makers and in-building distributed antenna systems (DAS) providers, should follow the 5G New Radio (5G NR) rules to call their network 5G, regardless of the frequency band they support. At least initially, T-Mobile is using the 600 MHz band, while Verizon is utilizing the millimeter-wave band (24 to 47 GHz), and AT&T is using the 850 MHz spectrum. (Full disclosure: My company works with these carriers.)
5G is designed to support three broad areas: enhanced mobile broadband applications such as HD video streaming, gaming, and other streaming use cases; ultra-reliable low-latency communications, including industrial IoT appliances and autonomous machines; and massive IoT applications such as connected cars, smart cities, and the required sensors. 5G NR also defines cellular signal modulation.
Why Low Latency Could Be The Real Game-Changer For 5G
Many people are fixated on the fast broadband that 5G will deliver, yet I believe this will have less impact than the decrease in latency. It’s the low latency (potentially under 5 milliseconds) that could enable completely new ways of accomplishing tasks that we could never dream of during the 4G and LTE era of telecommunications.
At this year’s Mobile World Congress Los Angeles, Ericsson reportedly provided a prime visual representation of edge computing to show how 5G improves and lowers latency. It did so by using a target, a Nerf gun, a small disk that blocks any Nerf bullets, and two cameras. As the bullets were shot at the target, the cameras sent the bullet’s trajectory to Ericsson’s data centers across the country, and the disk successfully blocked the bullet in time.
This low latency was unachievable for many applications with 4G/LTE, and now it opens more opportunities for both the everyday consumer as well as a variety of industries as they search for strong connectivity that can power new devices and applications.
Empowering Surgeons With Telemedicine
One of the initial areas that many say 5G will impact is in telemedicine; it could allow surgeons with rare specializations to treat patients globally from remote locations. Low-latency 5G connectivity could allow surgeons to perform procedures through surgical robots without delay. (One surgeon in China already performed a remote brain surgery using 5G.) Even though there are many cases where we can already power robots to perform tasks, such as in some high-end residential buildings, it’s 5G’s ultra-low latency that could enable these innovations in critical situations where lives are on the line.
The ubiquity of sensors in healthcare facilities will likely also rely on this new 5G connectivity to transmit and process the incoming data from every aspect of a patient’s vitals, from the hospital bed to the IV drip. This could help doctors make diagnoses and lifesaving decisions in real time.
Industrial IoT is another area I believe 5G will impact by further enabling smart utilities, agriculture, and asset tracking. In manufacturing, production time and efficiency are important, so I’m seeing a growth in connected and automated robotics that will speed up processes. Similar to the healthcare example, low latency could allow manufacturers to scale their robotic workforces. The network slicing capability of 5G could also allow manufacturers to create isolated end-to-end networks to ensure consistent performance is always available.
Multiple distribution centers with low-latency edge computing could transmit supply and demand data in milliseconds to stop and start production. They could base this real-time capacity steering on group cost analysis and production line visibility of on-site production, distribution and sales, which could consequently make scaling far more cost efficient.
True Remote Working Capabilities For Enterprises
Low latency could also help enterprises move beyond webinars and video conferencing toward augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) solutions, such as Microsoft’s Hololens, for seamless remote meetings that simulate an interpersonal environment. AR and VR are clearly capable of providing remote meeting solutions from a technology perspective, but without 5G it would be difficult to reduce lag enough to be productive in many cases. Once mainstream, I expect this capability to reduce travel costs while easing the environmental impact of transportation. Many companies may also see it as an attractive reason to accept more remote employees into their workforce, as co-workers can feel like everyone is on a cohesive team working in one location.
These are just some examples, but 5G speeds and low latency will be impactful for every industry. 5G is still being scaled out indoors and outdoors with many various bands, but its benefits may not be fully realized until the proper 5G infrastructure is built. Many of 5G’s use cases will occur indoors where people are using their devices. Companies that provide connectivity solutions should work with their property owners to implement their wireless solutions, such as DAS and repeaters, that work with today’s LTE devices, as well as help them cost-effectively scale for the future of 5G. They should connect these networks to a base station or to the outdoor macro network to extend connectivity indoors. In outdoor settings, service providers can ensure customers get 5G access through the use of 5G-compatible small and macro cells for wide area coverage.
5G’s infrastructure relies on the use of outdoor and indoor technologies, and by creating a seamlessly robust network with fast speeds and low latency, companies can help ensure their customers have access to new use cases anywhere.