28th June 2019
5G is finally here in the UK, but despite all the fanfare and excitement it will be some time before your business fully realises its true potential.
Experts suggest that it will take until 2025 to reach adoption rates of 15% globally, the equivalent of 1.4bn users. By this point, 5G is forecasted to account for around 30% of connections in markets such as China and Europe, and around half of the total in the US, according to GSMA Intelligence.
Although it’s in its early days, looking to more developed markets we are beginning to see the impact 5G is having on industry. But before considering how it will transform the way you do business, let’s explore what 5G is, and how it will be different from its predecessors, 3G and 4G.
5G vs 4G
If 3G and 4G were predominantly about mobile connectivity, 5G is about business transformation. 5G is the fifth generation of mobile networks. Operating on an entirely new cellular network to 4G, it’s 100 times faster and has 1,000 times more capacity.
With greater speed and lower latency, it will enable faster and larger data flows between connected devices, powering amongst other things IoT. Beyond performance benefits, it’s also set to underpin Industry 4.0 where everything will become connected, processed and digitised.
Convergence of technology
Yet, 5G is only part of the story.
Its significance has been magnified by arriving at the same time as several other technologies are maturing – such as AI, cloud, edge computing, IoT, Machine Learning and software defined networks. Together these technologies will not only usher in a new era of computing capability they will pave the way for new industries to emerge.
How 5G will change business
Data and autonomous decision-making, the distinct features of the 5G-powered “fourth Industrial Revolution”, marks the biggest change in business life since the introduction of electricity.
5G’s wireless network technology promises productivity gains – from operational efficiency, process automation, to full machine autonomy.
Below are just some of the ways this will happen:
5G will enable device-to-device communications for up to a million devices per square kilometre. This means devices will be able to send and receive massive amounts of new data – connecting individuals, home and communities in ways not possible before.
This will accelerate the introduction of driverless cars, drones, artificial intelligence, robotics and remote-controlled machinery, as well as virtual and augmented reality.
New data streams
Leaders in wireless communications have estimated that by 2023 there will be 3.5 billion cellular IoT connections worldwide. As a result, there will be an influx of new data to collect, transport, store, and secure. Businesses will need to get smarter at analysing it, so they can co-create and innovate based on their new data insights.
Smart city technology is already in place in cities such as Barcelona, Singapore and Columbus, Ohio. These cities analyse large amounts of data to aid crime reporting, operate smart streetlights and, using sensors, to track everything from air quality to available parking spaces.
With the introduction of 5G’s ultralow transmission delay (or “latency”) expect to see autonomous vehicles, smart energy grids and connected infrastructure.
User interfaces (websites) reimagined
The concept of UI will span beyond what we know today. Screen renderings are already happening on cloud infrastructure rather than on client devices.
Interestingly this starts to remove the need for any UI (or at least anything visible to the end user) at all. Systems will increasingly operate invisibly and autonomously. We can already see ‘invisible’ prototypes being tested in the transport sector – such as the “Be in Be Out” ticketing.
Instant response times will change consumer expectations
As the internet capacity upgrades, response times will also become much faster. Currently on 4G, typical response times are 4 milliseconds. On 5G they will be around 1 millisecond – 400x faster than a blink of the eye.
As people upgrade to 5G, their expectations about what their connected device can do will change. Any slow performing apps, or those without intuitive design, will depreciate in value, as consumers will look for the fastest / most convenient.
Personalisation will become paramount
5G will enable businesses to provide an enhanced, personalised web experience for customers using a technique called “network slicing”. This is a way of creating separate wireless networks on the cloud, giving companies the opportunity to create their own bespoke network. Businesses will be able to use network slicing to enhance their customer’s online experience.
The rise of edge computing
Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella announced last year that its focus going forward is about "intelligent cloud and intelligent edge". Edge computing will shift much of the critical processing and decision making to devices and gadgets that are connected to them, but at the far reaches of the network.
The primary goal of edge computing is to reduce network congestion and improve application performance by executing related task processing closer to the end user. The idea is this will improve the delivery of content and applications to users.
Lightning-fast response times and low latency communications will not only fuel IoT it will enable businesses to store, process and deliver data without using a centralised core network. This means enterprise level businesses can use small cell networks to transmit data to sizable locations like offices, campuses, or stadiums truly in real-time.
5G will pave the way for “digital twinning” which is effectively a digital copy of a physical item on the net.
Machines will be equipped with sensors connecting them to the internet, an example of this in practice is Vodafone’s 5G connected crane, which is operated by remote control hundreds of miles away. This 5G-enabled teleoperation solution could transform the construction industry and many others, increasing site safety and reducing idle time.
In a 5G world, machines will assist people doing their job, not replace them entirely. Tools like IBM Watson will become a vital aid for specialists, working in fields such as engineering, medicine and science.
Facilitate remote working
Network-related tasks, such as online sales or sharing large files in the cloud will become faster and more efficient, even on mobile devices, without the need to connect to WiFi, giving businesses huge productivity gains as well as facilitating remote working.
Need for increased security
It is expected that enterprise businesses will generate as much as 60% of data by 2025. This means big business needs to turn its attention to how to organise and cyber secure data end to end, or risk losing its intellectual property and value.
Governments and enterprise businesses will therefore need to work together to address these heightened privacy and safety concerns; as a result expect new government regulations and standards to be developed.
I’m incredibly excited to see what opportunities are on the as a result of 5G and in particular edge computing. We are currently working closely with core suppliers of edge hardware and software technology in heavily regulated industries such as transportation and finance.
Whilst infrastructure suppliers and actors such as Siemens, DXC and Network Rail undoubtedly have key roles to play in terms of providing the mesh itself, as well as defining standards and protocols, there are exciting new opportunities for smaller more nimble solution providers too.
We have particularly noticed the rise of disrupting software technology providers who are able to run edge based systems on top of common or publicly available IoT data sets, for example in the Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) space.
The other area which is currently showing a propensity to outliers is from niche hardware suppliers able to implement simple solutions for specific problems, for example using passenger count and CO2 readings within a carriage to control the heating.
In terms of an adoption curve, given the recent history of technology being driven by “unicorns” and “black swans”, rather than the industry stalwarts, we have a lot of hope for these niche providers.
Come and talk to us about how we can help your business get Industry 4.0 ready.