Throughout human history, technology has been the catalyst that has driven change. From the 2G era that ushered in an age of seamless communication to 4G that enabled mobile apps and mCommerce, technology has played a critical role in transforming our lives. Now, we’re on the brink of the next technological revolution – the 5G age of innovation.
5G (or fifth generation telecommunication) will mark the beginning of a new highly interconnected world where people and things will be more closely intertwined (with all things smart and all things sensing).
A decade ago, did you think that you could order a taxi or book a hotel room within seconds by tapping your smartphone? If you were like me, your imagination didn’t go that far.
If the past is anything to go by, you can bet that this technological evolution will also bring about dramatic social change.
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Is the Hype Behind 5G Justified?
Over the last couple of years, we have been talking (and I have been writing) about the Internet of Things (IoT), connected cars, artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented reality, but to realize the true potential of these technologies, we desperately need a massive a boost in connectivity.
5G does just that by securely connecting billions of people and intelligent things, instantaneously. So in the short-term, we can undoubtedly expect IoT to go through a period of significant acceleration across industries.
5G is a big deal, and it took years of hard work to achieve it. Siddharth Mohan, an electrical engineer at Qualcomm (where much of this technology was invented), puts it into perspective:
“When we are talking about today’s wireless communication, when the signal leaves the base station it can undergo a loss of up to 130 decibels before it reaches your mobile phone. A decibel is an exponential scale (every three-decibel loss is a loss of half the power). To put the 130-decibel loss in perspective that’s easy to understand if you can consider the transmitted signal power to be roughly the size of Earth, then the received signal power is equivalent to the size of a tiny bacteria.”
That’s an enormous loss of power, and it blows my mind that the engineers working behind the scenes were able to find a way to compensate for that loss. Because of their enormous contributions, we’re able to receive texts, images, videos, and other data over the airwaves seamlessly, transparently, and instantaneously. 5G will take this innovation to the next level.
How Will 5G Change the World?
From 2019, 5G connectivity will become a reality, but the adoption will be slow. In fact, it will take a considerable amount of time for countries to update their infrastructure to accommodate it.
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According to the GSMA Intelligence report, by 2025, the number of 5G global connections is forecasted to reach 1.3 billion, covering 40% of the world’s population (or approximately 2.7 billion people).
The same report estimates that there will be 25 billion hyperconnected devices leveraging 1GB per second download speeds by 2025. The combination of such high-quality connectivity with WiFi and fixed broadband connections will enable uninterrupted access to the internet and cloud services.
So what are the implications of a hyperconnected world? Let’s take a look.
AI and IoT-Integrated Edge Computing
For IoT, the next evolution will bring about the tactile internet for automation. This means real-time human-to-machine and machine-to-machine interactions that will be powered by high-speed low-latency 5G networks.
So we will soon live in a world where both humans and machines interact with their environments using touch and visual feedback.
IoT-integrated edge computing that’s powered by AI and machine learning algorithms will also instigate an era of condition-based cognitive predictive maintenance.
This means that things like manufacturing robots, machinery, and even car engines and parts will be managed through self-administered maintenance. Cloud-based edge computing will also be leveraged to track vital data and coordinate reprogrammable robots to optimize and repurpose then regularly.
The emergence of the tactile internet will also have a huge impact on health and safety. This is because humans involved in manufacturing and emergency services will be equipped with connected tools like wearable sensors, touch-sensitive connected gloves, and smart glasses that will go a long way to reduce the risk of error and injury. In fact, it even has the potential to eliminate occupational hazards entirely (but that’s up for debate).
While this might all sound like a pipe dream that will never come true, the fact is that we already have the technology. For example, ProGlove’s connected touch feedback system has already been deployed to optimize quality checks in factories, assembly lines, and other areas of manufacturing. With 5G, this technology is only going to get better.
The same can be said for connected cars because while we already have it and are actively experimenting with it, we’re not going to realize its true potential without 5G. These connected automobiles will make roads safer while autonomous vehicles enhance logistics and delivery across industries.
At present, connected cars have reached Level 3 autonomy, when it steps up to Level 4, the passenger can give up full control of the vehicle as longs as it meets certain conditions (but he/she will be able to take over at any time).
5G will help us reach Level 5 of autonomy where the next generation of vehicles won’t even be equipped with steering wheels or pedals. Instead, you’ll just have to request rides from a mobile device and enjoy the journey.
According to Jane Rygaard Pedersen, Head of Mobile Networks marketing at Nokia, "we need to look at how long it takes for the message to be transmitted between sensors and then get to the computer in each car, and then how long it takes for the computer to make a decision, and all of this has to be in less time than a human would take to make a decision – 2 milliseconds. We need a network supporting this, and 5G is that network.”
5G is also expected to give rise to unmanned aerial vehicles like drones which will enable rapid, low-cost delivery. As 5G networks will allow uninterrupted fast connectivity, we will also be able to securely command and coordinate large drone fleets automatically while avoiding collisions. Again, while this might sound futuristic, we already have it in the form of Amazon Prime Air.
While all this sounds great, to get there we will have to first overcome some significant challenges surrounding smart spectrum use and support for MIMO and dark fiber. This is because the spectrum is limited and therefore expensive. So it will require negotiation and collaboration to manage the colossal demand across busy, smart cities, and suburban areas.
Going forward, we will also have to move away from our reliance of roadside towers to installing hundreds of thousands of street-level outdoor small cells as a solution. This approach can help add more capacity and coverage where it’s needed most.
However, the transition to 5G won’t be as simple as increasing asset numbers as the telecommunications industry will also need to identify ways to efficiently support 5G infrastructure.
Beyond the technical side of things, we also have to think about the long-term consequences on human societies where jobs will be replaced by technology (but let’s save that for another blog post).
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