What is 5G? How will it affect my industry and business?

What is 5G?

It is the fifth generation of mobile communications which has been developed with three main things in mind: connecting tons of things, super-fast content streaming and super low-latency communications.

What this means is that many new applications will become possible which were not before. This is one of those foundational technologies that will enable very radical innovation in the next decade or two.  

What will it make possible?

5G has the potential to be transformational. Whereas 3G enabled many new products and services that drive how we do things today (think smartphones, mobile web browsing, WhatsApp, mobile payments), 5G is going to be several times more transformational. The main reason for this is that it has been designed with data and things in mind.

Below are some of the things that will be enabled by 5G:

  • Consumer products
    • Super-fast broadband that will enable streaming of content without delays and frustrating buffering. Live streaming will therefore become more common and to many different devices (e.g. car, city display). Gaming will take another leap forward with more richness and portability (e.g. start in console, continue where you left in car). Also, this make is possible to bring high speed broadband to areas where installing fibre cables are not economically viable.
    • Reliable connections, particularly in cases where many people are gathered such as stadiums, airports, music concerts. 5G is indeed designed to handle tons more connections per access point than any previous generation. This will enable new experiences that will complement and enrich the main event (football match, concert).
    • New consumer products will be possible that take advantage of the low latency and huge throughput. AR and VR applications are definitely the key apps here, but more interestingly will be a move towards ‘augmented products’ whereby day-to-day products become smarter and connected. Think for example buying a drill for your DIY which comes with video or virtual reality (VR) tutorials and personalised, application-specific advice using augmented reality (AR).
  • Healthcare is bound to be the industry that get the most from 5G as it enables remote, real-time patient care, especially emergency and highly specialised care (e.g. remote surgery). Also, things like connected products (e,g, hearing aids, connected catheters) which, although can already be connected, will gain from the higher reliability and greater bandwidth of 5G for new value-added digital services.
  • Government – smart cities will certainly benefit from 5G. With the low latency, higher reliability of connection and broadband, things like connected infrastructure whereby vehicles and citizens can interact with the city infrastructure will be possible. The former is what is referred to as V2X (vehicle to vehicle/infrastructure) whereby cars interact with one another as well as with the city infrastructure (think traffic lights) to better regulate and ease traffic. Then, things like direct parking payment (no smartphone apps needed) will be natural. And of course, autonomous public transport options will become more feasible with 5G.
  • Manufacturing will be transformed by 5G. Indeed, this is an area that is being touted as early adopter. Since 5G offers greater bandwidth and low latency, it means that production lines that today require a local control centre will gain the ability to be controlled remotely. Imagine a control centre the operates not only one plan but many. Add AI and further efficiencies can be attained. Furthermore, with the same low latency and greater bandwidth, AR-based training for shop floor personnel and even remote troubleshooting will be possible. This is essentially what industry 4.0 is all about.
  • B2B product and services will get a whole set of possibilities with 5G. New connected products (e.g. pumps, kilns, industrial valves, you name it) will be possible to be not only connected but enriched with new value-added services. From instruction manuals delivered in AR mode, through to remote commissioning to hologram-based training. Furthermore, the move towards as-a-service models will continue in earnest as the technology enables remote control, troboubleshooting.
  • Energy and Utilities – smart grids will be made a reality. As 5G will not support high bandwidth and low latency, but also low-bandwidth, energy-efficient connectivity for battery-powered devices, it will make smart metering and grids a much more cost-effective. When I was launching battery-powered smart meters 10 years ago, I wish something like 5G had been available, catering for our needs of low power consumption for devices that ran on battery for 10-15 years, of a global standard so that the same smart meter could be deployed anywhere in the world and the right amount of bandwidth to enable value-added services.
  • Financial Services – the obvious gain will be on payments, making them much faster and reliable, improving consumer experience and trust. Beyond that, there will be an opportunity for financial service institutions to come up new value-added services that take advantage of real-time capabilities of 5G (e.g. on-the-spot credit line based on location, usage-based insurance services).
  • Transportation – connected cars will be supercharged with real-time information. Even before fully autonomous vehicles, what we are likely to see is driving aiding services that tell drivers what is the best route, to take an exit or slow down because an accident has just happened 3km ahead – all based on real time information from V2X (see above), and other data services (traffic, whether, parking), and without having to touch a smartphone at all.

Interesting facts about 5G

Source: Quartz

  • 22: Minutes to download an HD movie on a 4G LTE network
  • 32: Seconds to download an HD movie on a 5G network
  • 1 million: South Koreans who signed up for 5G in its first 69 days of availability
  • $43 billion: Amount China’s state-owned mobile companies are investing in 5G infrastructure this year
  • 128 yuan ($18): Cost for 30 GB of 5G data in China
  • $1 trillion: Cost to build out 5G worldwide
  • $12 trillion: Projected economic benefits by 2035, estimated by Qualcomm
  • 10,000: Devices 4G can handle in a sq km
  • 1 million: Devices 5G may be able to handle in a sq km

Another way to better understand 5G is by discussing it children: