The digital world is about to undergo a radical step-change, thanks to 5G, the newest generation of mobile communication. That’s because 5G opens up vast new possibilities for the internet of things.
To begin with, 5G offers about 1,000 times more capacity per radio cell compared to 4G. It has the capacity of 100 times more devices per antenna, meaning many more simultaneous connections. It cuts response times to less than 5 milliseconds compared to more than 60 milliseconds for 4G – in other words making communication almost instantaneous. And data transmission is 100 times faster, at 3 gigabits per second now, rising to 20 gigabits as the network expands.
But the massive technological leap 5G offers isn’t a luxury – increasingly it’s becoming a necessity. For instance, without expansion into 5G, Switzerland would run out of capacity for more than 60 per cent of internet traffic within three years.
The benefits of 5G don’t stop at capacity or speed. Compared to the previous generation of mobile phone antennas, 5G requires three times less power to transmit the same amount of data. And because of increased digital technology and connectivity, leading to process optimisation, the economy generally can save energy.
Meanwhile, because the 5G network can be ‘sliced’, part of the capacity can be reserved for emergency services, so that they would have clear communications channels even when the rest of the network is overloaded.
A communication revolution
And then there is the matter of revolutionary new uses that 5G makes possible. Energy efficiency improvements mean that 5G-connected sensors don’t need to be plugged into the electric grid to operate for long periods – they can be made to run for four or five years on ordinary batteries or even use energy harvesting approaches. At the same time, vast increases in capacity allow for a large number of these inter-connected sensors.
These networks of sensors can super-charge other technologies. Take self-driving cars. The computing power that makes this autonomy possible is both heavy and power-hungry. But you can remove the need for the cars themselves to carry this processing power by doing the processing in the cloud. You can then connect the cars to the cloud and directly to thousands of fixed 5G-connected sensors like intelligent road signals and traffic lights. A sophisticated self-driving infrastructure needs 5G.
One of the most interesting immediate uses of 5G is to enable building maintenance. Construction equipment has increasingly been made high tech, but the problem with buildings is that neither earlier generations of mobile networks nor conventional WiFi networks are sufficient to penetrate large structures adequately. At the same time, GPS is not accurate in a city. 5G, however, gets around these problems. For instance, GPS works to an accuracy of some 10 to 20 metres in urban spaces. 5G can offer accuracy to mere centimetres. This full coverage enables full and timely construction modelling. It also allows for better use of robotics on building sites, in much the same way as it can liberate self-driving cars.
The 5G is still getting off the ground, coverage isn’t universal and there aren’t enough antennas yet. But, as it comes into its own, it will be a platform for revolutionary applications – many of which are undoubtedly yet to even be imagined.