What will 5G technology bring to business?
2019 is set to be the year that the long-awaited 5G technology starts to take off. Many expect this to be a game-changer and, according to Ericsson, a telecom equipment manufacturer that makes some of the 5G infrastructures, by 2024 there will be over 1.5 billion of us connected to 5G. You may have also seen the recent launch of a new range of mobile handsets from Samsung that will include 5G technology. So, things are starting to intensify.
However, 5G technology offers far more than mobile calling or faster Internet browsing. According to a study from Qualcomm, by 2035, 5G technology could underpin up to £9.3 trillion worth of goods and services in industries such as retail, healthcare, education, transportation, entertainment and more. In a report from PSB Research, which surveyed over 3,500 people including business decision leaders, analysts, and technology enthusiasts, they found that because of 5G:
- 91% expect to see new products and services that have yet to be invented
- 87% expect to see new emerging industries
- 82% expect small business growth and more global competition
- 85% expect it to make companies more globally competitive
- 89% expect productivity to increase
In this article we examine what 5G is and discuss some of the benefits it is likely to bring.
What exactly is 5G?
The “G” in 5G stands for “generation.” We need to look back to the late 1980s when 1G technology was first launched, although it wasn’t called 1G at the time. This was the very first commercially available mobile network that was based largely on analogue technology.
2G technology came along in the early 1990s and was the first truly digital network. It brought with it encrypted calls and SMS text messages, although initially only between handsets on the same network.
3G was relatively slow to be adopted, and it wasn't until the mid-2000s that it became mainstream. It added the ability to browse the Internet and send and receive emails.
4G took things a step further and provided a greatly enhanced service over 3G, adding the ability to stream or download video files. However, 4G hasn’t stood still; some providers have added LTE (Long Term Evolution). LTE became the fastest and most consistent variety of 4G, compared to competing technologies like WiMax. With a good connection, the 4G LTE transfer speed is about one gigabit per second and takes about an hour to download a short HD movie. You are probably thinking, “my 4G isn’t that fast”, and this is a significant issue. You will rarely experience 4G's maximum download speed because obstacles often disrupt the signal; buildings, microwaves, and WiFi signals.
Now that the world has become “connected”, 5G takes things to a new level. It will still support calls, text messages and Internet browsing, but it will dramatically increase the speed at which data is transferred across the network and, most importantly, it will significantly expand the use of Internet-connected devices.
It’s not just about speed
5G will have an increased data rate of up to 10 gigabits per second (10 to 100x improvement over 4G), faster than many home broadband services and means that a full HD movie will download in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, the importance of a quick connection is only going to increase; therefore latency has been significantly reduced to about 1ms. In short, it will give wireless broadband the capacity it needs to support the ever-increasing number of IoT (Internet of Things) that will shortly reach our homes and workplaces.
However, it is not just faster speeds and latency, 5G technology has been designed to provide:
- 1000x bandwidth per unit area
- Up to 100x number of connected devices per unit area (compared with 4G LTE)
- 99.999% availability
- 100% coverage
- 90% reduction in network energy usage
- Up to 10-year battery life (for low power IoT devices)
Can 5G technology help my business?
Just as the Internet has changed the way we work in ways that we didn’t think were possible, 5G will make businesses more efficient, extend capacity to do more in less time and with fewer resources. In turn, saving costs and increasing revenue. The most exciting thing is, we couldn’t have predicted the advent of services like Uber or Facebook Live on your smartphone; similarly, we don't yet know what applications will emerge from the use of 5G.
5G will unlock many new applications, and is already being considered for:
- Remote Surgery - This isn’t new, but 5G could have an enormous impact in providing healthcare to millions of people in remote locations, as well as training doctors in surgical specialisms. Some Telecom equipment manufacturers, such as Ericsson, are already working with doctors at King's College in London to test 5G compatible prototypes of touch-sensitive gloves connected to remote robots.
- Self-driving cars - The significantly improved latency will allow cars to exchange their location, speed, acceleration, direction, and steering, faster than we can blink. Many consider this "vehicle-to-vehicle communication," the most crucial lifesaving technology to hit the auto industry in more than ten years.
- Drones - Just as 5G will allow self-driving cars to talk to each other, the technology will do the same for drones, ensuring the devices can fly safely without bumping into each other.
- Virtual reality - Some 5G applications require high data throughput or reduced latency. However, creating an immersive virtual experience requires both. The network needs to be responsive, but it must also provide large amounts of data.
- IoT - The use of IoT devices is set to explode. There are currently an estimated 6.4 billion connected devices in the world, but with home appliances, door locks, security cameras, cars, wearables, animal collars and so many other inert devices beginning to connect to the web, Gartner predicts that by 2020, that figure will rise to 20.8 billion.
Despite the applications already being developed for 5G, several consequences should be considered:
- More Base Stations - 5G networks will be denser than traditional cellular networks and require a base station to be within 200 meters of each subscriber. This will require the installation of thousands of new base stations, so the intention is to install them on streetlights. However, to avoid having to dig up the streets to install cables, each base station will be configured in a grid configuration and have a point-to-point connection to another base station nearby.
- Real-time tracking - 5G networks share the same frequencies as Phased-array radar, and since antenna beams are formed by the constructive and destructive interference of the signals received or radiated by each antenna element, it is feasible that 5G mobile applications will add real-time tracking. This would be more accurate than our current GPS solutions.
- Initial high cost - With the increased speed and bandwidth being offered by 5G, will we still need traditional broadband connectivity to our homes and offices? Broadband providers have invested heavily in the roll-out of fibre optic cabling and won't want to write that off just yet. However, many of the 5G service providers will be the same companies that provide fibre optic broadband, so 5G costs could remain higher until that investment has paid off.
- Health risk - As with other radio technologies, there are some concerns about the effects 5G may have on our health. 5G uses high energy millimetre waves. These waves are so short that they are easily blocked or absorbed by obstacles like buildings, trees, or rain, hence the need for so many base stations. Back in the 1980s, scientists began investigating if millimetre wave energy could be used as a non-lethal weapon. This led to the creation of the Active Denial System (ADS). Although mobile networks operate differently, this has raised concerns, although results are yet inconclusive.
- Big Brother is watching - There is no doubt that 5G will provide greater connectivity, with faster speeds and less latency. For some, this will be welcome, but for others, it could be seen as a way to monitor what we do and where we are. We have already seen calls for greater regulation of social media and as these platforms grow to take advantage of 5G, expect these calls to become louder.
When will 5G be available?
All major telecom operators are battling to be the first to market, and those at the forefront can expect to increase market share and revenue streams. 5G is already available in some test locations around the UK, and commercial 5G networks are expected to go live in 2019. EE has been trailing its 5G network in London across nine sites and aims to be first to launch commercially in the "Summer" of 2019. However, most networks are still in the very early phase of deployment, so we are unlikely to see full launches until 2020 at the earliest.
By combining improved capacity with increased cost-efficiency, 5G represents an opportunity for telecom operators to grow their business. Networks will also have more capacity and be more responsive than with previous generations. This means that more people and things can work on the same network without slowing it down. However, telecom operators will need to re-engineer their data plans. If you can download a 1Gb movie in three seconds, you are likely to download more, and so a conventional data plan could soon get used up. Perhaps we will see more unlimited data plans like those offered by many home broadband providers.
MHA MacIntyre Hudson’s Technology Advisory Services (TAS) team has over 35 years of experience in helping organisations ensure that it's IT systems and services are reliable, resilient, scalable and secure.
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