Fifth generation (5G) mobile communication is just around the corner and its imminent arrival has the potential to change everything. 5G is not just a step up in speed as we have seen in previous iterations, it is a bigger step and one that will elevate the game changing and ubiquitous technologies of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). These changes will impact personal communication and media consumption but also industry, transport, buildings, cities and so much more, all around the world.
5G pilot projects are well underway. The first 5G networks offering Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband are set to go live in the US, although Japan and South Korea will soon take much bigger steps into this new era of mobile communication. While in China, the sheer amount of capital invested in Chinese network infrastructure suggests that they will likely become the world leader for 5G as soon as next year. Europe, meanwhile, lags behind but is still expected to get it’s network up and running by 2020, along with India and other ambitious nations keeping pace with the traditional first movers.
For the majority of people each generation means faster browsing on mobile devices but each jump in speed opens up new opportunities and speed is only one part of the story. The first generation mobile network, or 1G, was all about enabling voice, then 2G was about voice and texting. 3G brough data into the equation and 4G has essentially been 3G but faster.
5G will certainly be faster still, in fact it will be fast enough to download a full-length HD movie in seconds, but it will also combine high-speed connectivity with very low latency and ubiquitous coverage, thereby facilitating machines to communicate remotely with other machines like never before.
Nokia predicts 5G internet network speeds as high as 10Gbps alongside significantly lowered latency. Furthermore, 5G networks will support massive increases in data traffic and expand of cell sites, meaning billions of devices could function together across wide areas. The 50 billion connected devices touted by Cisco seven years ago seemed unfathomable at the time but the technical specifications offered by 5G suddenly makes that futuristic highly connected world look possible, even reasonable. Those Sci-Fi-esque dreams that accompanied the early hype surrounding the IoT may have faded into normality but a 5G-enabled IoT may make those dreams a reality.
Consider a Sci-Fi stalwart like driverless cars, for example, were we imagined cars flowing through junctions from every direction at full speed, missing each other by centimeters but safely guided intelligent, sensor-rich, street infrastructure. Then consider that a connected car traveling at 75 miles per hour would overshoot by more than 10 feet before applying the brakes if the system was experiencing just a 100-millisecond delay. All this with thousands of cars, along with millions of other devices, clogging the urban data networks.
A Machina Research report forecasts that the “IoT will account for one-quarter of the global 41 million 5G connections in 2024,” and approximately three quarters of these will be in the auto industry via embedded vehicle connections. They may, however, be neglecting the needs of other 4IR applications that will also seize the opportunity to blossom in a 5G world. Augmented and virtual reality, for example, both rely on speed and low latency as they demand immediate interactivity and hope to penetrate almost every element of our lives. This future is simply not possible with 4G, nor with a simple speed increase, it needs a change of network architecture.
“IoT innovation also demand shifts in overall architecture, such as a move to cognitive networks. Telcos will need on-demand, agile and programmable infrastructure,” predicts Hossein Moiin, EVP and CTO, Nokia Networks. “5G will also take systems beyond radio to be cloud-optimized and able to use big data analytics and artificial intelligence. At the same time, this evolution will require an eagle eye on security, looking at the entire chain to be sure all elements are secured.”
Tractica Research forecasts spending on AI-driven network management software to grow from $23 million in 2018 to more than $1.9 billion in 2021, and annual spend for AI network operations solutions to reach $7.4 billion by 2025. “Most experts believe 5G network monitoring and management will largely be beyond human control, and that AI-fueled automation is the only way CSPs will be able to offer future network services,” says Mark Beccue, Principal Analyst, Tractica.
The fourth industrial revolution is hungry for data transfer speed, lower latency, greater bandwidth, more coverage and all the things that 5G promises to deliver. Once the 5G network begins to take shape it will inject new life across the IoT spectrum, throughout the worlds of business and industry, into our cities, buildings, homes and vehicles. Elements of the IoT that have so far appeared underwhelming will be able to show their potential, while new opportunities will gush to the surface in an explosion of innovation that will no doubt soon demand the next generation of improvements.
“5G is the foundation for realizing the full potential of IoT,” says Paolo Colella, the former head of India Region for Ericsson. “With connectivity at the heart of industry transformation, 5G will have a key role to play—not just in the evolution of communication but in the evolution of businesses and society as a whole. On the road to 5G, operators will need to do more than just evolve networks; they will need to transform their business to address new opportunities.”