5G wireless networks leading fourth industrial revolution

Network providers around the globe are launching 5G networks that can connect the handful of available 5G-capable devices. Currently, very few devices are connected to these new networks, allowing providers to tout headline grabbing download speeds of 1 Gbps plus. That is up to ten times faster than the “superfast” broadband services households in the UK enjoy when they are with a major provider, which is around 50 to 100 Mbps to the home, which has to be shared with all the occupants, such as a data-hungry young family or even a group of students.

Although higher data speeds will enable new use cases, including replacing existing wired broadband services, my premise is that data throughput speed is not where the true value of 5G lies. Two critical benefits introduced by 5G:

The reduction of network-based delays

Through improvements in data transmission technologies, 5G will reduce device-to-cell tower delay to less than 1 millisecond. Coupled with the integration of edge computing, this will allow for truly real-time applications, irrespective of where you are. This is essential for automation that supports quicker-than-human reaction times.

Throughput of critical data guaranteed

5G has the concept of network slicing built into its core. This technology will guarantee “slices” of network capacity to nominated applications, which will guarantee that any data deemed safety critical, as a minimum, will be delivered and returned as per the contractual agreement with the service provider. With these benefits, 5G will act as the foundation and enabling platform for a number of technology revolutions over the next decade and beyond.

Level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles

Driverless vehicles are rated based on their level of autonomous capability. Level 4 is total autonomy (no driver required) within a small and controlled geographic area (such as a city center or large campus). Level 5 autonomy allows the vehicle to self-drive anywhere you want to go. These levels will allow you to take a back seat for a nap or to finish up that PowerPoint presentation while your car chauffeurs you to work. 

To reach these levels of autonomy, vehicles will need to go beyond simply scanning the environment with their infrared scanners and cameras, as modern cars already do. They would need to interact with it, and the sensors, and the vehicles within it in real time to ensure the maximum level of safety for the vehicles’ occupants. This will be crucial in a hybrid world of driven and self-driven vehicles.

Robotics and automation beyond CGI and science fiction

Many of you will have seen the widely shared YouTube videos of the advances made in robotics mobility and dexterity from the likes of Boston Dynamics in the U.S or the advances made in artificial intelligence (AI) from global players. Beyond the obvious risk of creating a robot that suddenly decides we are not its friend, one of the major reasons that a very advanced robot that combines mobility, dexterity and intelligence has not yet been marketed is the lack of ability to engage with both its environment and the data that sits in the cloud, in real time. Machines and plant robots connected to 5G will benefit from much faster end-to-end connectivity, and therefore, changes to their workload or methods in real time will be possible. 

Personally, I don’t believe that these developments will lead to robots walking the streets “I, Robot” style in the short or medium term. However, I do expect to see the automation capabilities in industry and operational technology (OT) environments take a revolutionary leap forward – with production lines and logistics in enterprise resource planning seeing the most benefit from 5G deployment.

Online/streaming gaming services that are as immersive as the leading game consoles

Traditionally online/streaming gaming has been a poor relation to the major consoles due to bandwidth and delay issues between the player and the cloud (where the processing takes place). Gaming is an area where any in-game delay (even of just a few milliseconds) impacts playability. It is no coincidence that major players such as Google (with Stadia) and Microsoft (with X-Cloud) have waited until now, with 5G networks in their early deployment, to launch their platforms. More offerings will follow from the large gaming houses as they all gear up to exploit the 5G advantage.

Rich and smooth virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), from any location

It is no coincidence that companies, such as HTC in Korea, have essentially bet their entire futures on virtual reality or that Google has just launched a new version of their augmented reality tool chain, in tandem with the global deployments of 5G. 

Similar to online gaming, real-time access to cloud computing resources over 5G will exponentially uplift how immersive and rich these applications are able to be – while improving the user experience by eradicating the delays currently caused by latency and slow data transmission speeds. 

Again, VR and AR vendors are likely to work in conjunction with 5G providers to drive early adoption.

In conclusion, the potential that 5G offers as an enabler of the next phase of technology revolution is exciting. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will see both AI and advanced automation embedded into many industries that have so far been very human-effort oriented. As a leading technologist working for a company at the forefront of next-generation connectivity, cloud services, cybersecurity and AI/data analytics, I can see that the pace of change and technology evolution will accelerate as 5G is deployed globally, meaning that my working life will remain interesting if nothing else.

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