Coming in as an improvement on 4G, 5G is the next generation of wireless network. It offers data speeds approximately 20 times faster than 4G, and will provide significantly reduced levels of latency, with superior bandwidth and speed.
But what makes 5G such an exciting prospect is its potential for business transformation. With improvements to all areas of a network – capacity, speed, response time – over the coming months, we will start to see a whole new level of technology being developed and deployed. From connected, autonomous cars to real-time virtual-reality experiences; 5G is set to deliver potentially life-changing technology across any number of sectors and regions.
Here we will set out three sector-specific scenarios to explore real-world examples of how 5G can offer direct improvement to businesses.
For businesses - whether in metropolitan or regional areas - the importance of the transport network simply cannot be overstated. Businesses increasingly require fast and reliable transport services, to connect with consumers, the community, partners and supplies. And as we become more internationally woven, businesses need transport that empowers their business operations across borders. Luckily, 5G has the potential to transform this sector further, taking transport to new heights.
In the simplest terms, 5G’s low latency, high capacity, and reliability will improve our infrastructure significantly. This comes from its ability to enable true end-to-end connectivity, both in terms of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. In real terms, this translates to smarter networks, where transport can move as efficiently as possible throughout a city, a country and event internationally.
With 5G, real-time information sent first from cameras spread across a city – and eventually from moving vehicles – can be analysed to identify potential congestion and delays, while immediately addressing build up in the event of an accident. Traffic lights, barriers and signage can be centrally controlled with agile AI systems to reroute traffic flow and alleviate congestion.
Outside of cutting commuting times, the same increase in vehicle visibility has profound implications for the fleet and logistics industry. Here, we will see a boost in safety and reliability with drivers of fleets able to stay in constant contact with a central information source, one that can provide details on the best routes, inclement weather (and dangerous road conditions) and even the health of their vehicle.
And while autonomous cars may be a few years from mainstream adoption, what we’re seeing here is the foundations – with connected convoys forming micro networks of communicating vehicles that position themselves based on each other’s road placements. 5G is setting the stage for the future of transport.
The improvements that we’ll see in transport can also be played out in the healthcare sector, with connected ambulances able to better navigate traffic or congestion to access patients faster, all with the help of AI informed by real-time 5G data collection.
But in healthcare, 5G will enable so much more than faster routing. Remote diagnosis, for example, will become a reality. And while the concept of telemedicine has been around for a long time, it has rarely been used in urgent care – it’s reliability under intense scrutiny is yet to be proven.
However, with 5G these technologies are already in the works. Earlier this year, University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust worked with BT to demonstrate a remote-controlled ultrasound scan. Passing information across a 5G network, the organisation demonstrated how a paramedic in the field could perform an ultrasound scan on a patient under the remote guidance of a clinician, who is able to interpret the ultrasound image in real-time. The ultrasound sensor is manipulated locally by the paramedic under the direction of the clinician, who controls a joystick sending control signals over the live 5G network to a robotic or ‘haptic’ glove worn by the paramedic. The glove creates small vibrations that direct the paramedic’s hand to where the clinician wants the ultrasound sensor to be moved. When combined with real-time audio and video feeds, it provides a rich and immersive experience. The clinicians reach is extended miles out into the surrounding area without moving from their seat.
This is a huge step forward in emergency medicine: with expert clinicians able to review findings remotely, the time for patients to be diagnosed is significantly reduced, with the potential to cut down unnecessary ambulance journeys and emergency department visits. This will in turn improve the overall experience for patients while freeing up ambulance resources and reducing pressure on emergency departments. Faster diagnosis can also mean that patients don’t have to be triaged and their waiting time in Emergency Departments are dramatically reduced, meaning better patient outcomes and improved efficiency for the hospital.
With increased bandwidth, massive capacity, and zero latency of 5G, we can expect to see healthcare operations speed-up – a crucial improvement in an industry where every second counts.
With the retail landscape already undergoing a long-term period of change, it seems inevitable that 5G will offer new opportunities. Most interestingly, the sector is currently at a crossroads in its technology adoption – looking for a way to tie real-world experiences together with the explosion in demand for eCommerce and mCommerce.
Perhaps most excitingly is the potential for augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications to be adopted in-store. Consumers will enjoy more immersive and engaging experiences, changing what it means to be ‘in-store’ – it’s no longer about finding and buying a product. 5G will allow innovations like real-time rendering for immersive video, shorter download and set-up times, and a seamless multi-channel shopping experiences where customers can pick up online where they left off in-store.
Within the bricks-and-mortar store environment, 5G will also enable technologies such as pattern recognition of shoppers – helping to flag returning visitors, key demographics and areas of high or low footfall. Similarly, with connections to the customer’s smartphone, personalised digital signage can help flag relevant offers.
Most excitingly, the deployment of 5G networks has already begun, with hotspots live in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. Roll out is continuing rapidly and EE alone has plans to add more than 100 new 5G sites per month, covering the entire UK from Glasgow to Plymouth.
Of course, this is only the start.
As 5G coverage expands rapidly across the country – and as the technology matures – its real significance will become fully known; becoming tangible, measured, and, hopefully, keenly felt by organisations and citizens alike.
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