Things move fast in technology. It’s hard to believe that 4G, which brought video streaming and gaming to our phones, only came in five years ago. Fast forward to now, and we’re already on the cusp of the next generation of mobile technology. 5G is expected to launch worldwide in 2020, and we’re being told that it’ll be revolutionary. So what’s all the fuss about 5G, and what will it mean for your business?
First, some basics. Fifth-generation mobile networks will be a lot faster than 4G, using higher, less crowded radio frequencies and more, smaller antennae to boost the signal. 5G will see download speeds increase by up to 100 times, latency (delay or lag) drop to almost zero, and capacity (the number of devices able to use the network simultaneously) expand hugely. Essentially, 5G will give users limitless bandwidth and continuous availability wherever they are.
So 5G won’t just enable mobile users to a download a film in seconds: it will bring about a step change in the usability and connectivity of technology in general. Fast, reliable and continuous mobile technology will enable new uses for VR and AR, the proliferation of IoT (internet of things) devices, more reliable drone delivery and autonomous cars… as well as plenty more that hasn’t even been imagined yet.
5G will also improve efficiency. Councils could save £2.8 billion a year with optimised services such as smart bins and intelligent street lighting, while according to a recent report by O2, British households will save £450 a year thanks to 5G-enabled devices like smart fridges, smart grids (which allow consumers to choose where they buy energy) and lower council tax bills. In the NHS, 9.4 million GP visits a year could be replaced by telehealth video conferences, and patient monitoring improved by wearable devices.
As well as being available on mobile phones, 5G will serve homes and businesses via Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) — a router that connects to the internet using wireless network technology instead of fixed lines. While the current 4G version of FWA cannot compete with fibre broadband, the 5G version will match if not outperform it, coming with beam-forming technology that allows you to direct the signal to where it’s needed. Fixed Wireless Access is easy to set up, requiring no engineer, and will bring fast internet to areas of the country that fibre cannot reach.
For business and industry, the implications of 5G are mind-boggling. As well as benefiting from improved efficiency and productivity, the possibilities for remote working enabled by seamless video conferencing will mean that businesses are less constrained by their physical location. According to Dr Mischa Dohler, Professor in Wireless Communication at King’s College, London, the “really exciting, disruptive potential of 5G”, lies in getting rid of the wiring and operating hardware remotely. “With 5G, technology has become so reliable and with such low latency that it can replace cabling in industries such as manufacturing, the NHS, or the culture and art space.”
Image Credit: https://mischadohler.com/about/
So, when will 5G come in? The first 5G-enabled mobile phones will appear on the market next year, and by 2020, the technology is expected to be available worldwide. But the speed of adoption will vary depending on the decisions made by providers, businesses and government in different countries and regions.
In the UK, the picture is mixed. “On the supply side, the vendors and the telcos are pretty well prepared for 5G”, says Dr Dohler. Indeed, in April the four major UK telecommunications companies spent a total of £1.35bn in Ofcom’s 5G spectrum auction — significantly more than was expected. Vodafone spent £378m on 50MHz of spectrum, EE splashed out £303m on 40MHz and O2 secured 40MHz with £318m while Three spent £151m on 20MHz to add to its prior holding of 40MHz. The high prices bid suggests that the telcos are optimistic about 5G’s business potential, despite the costs involved in installing the infrastructure required.
On the demand side, however, things are rather different. Dr Mischa Dohler is something of a 5G pioneer, having set up the first 5G network in a world capital at his 5G Research and Innovation Laboratory at King’s College London. The lab forms partnerships in fields such as medicine, education, gaming and culture to better understand the potential use cases of 5G. For the past four years Dr Dohler has also been running co-design workshops at King’s, bringing the supply and demand side together to help them recognise the value in each other. He believes that business has a lot to learn about the possibilities of the technology. “We want to make sure industry understands the disruptive value of 5G,” he says. “5G will not come for free but when people understand the value they will not question the cost.”
Another of the lab’s research fields has been the so-called “internet of skills”: using 5G in combination with robotics and AI to enable specialist skills such as surgery to be performed remotely — from the other side of the world, if necessary. Dr Dohler and his team are currently working on a project to improve colon cancer detection in rural China by developing a “soft robotic” 5G-enabled device that would enable cancer specialists in the big cities to check patients remotely at rural clinics. “We are bringing in skills from a high-skill area to a low-skill area and therefore democratising those capabilities,” he says. For globalised businesses, the cost-saving potential of the “internet of skills” is easy to imagine.
And what about London? While recent reports suggest that Europe will lose out to the US and Asia in the 5G race, London still has the potential to be a trailblazer. “Whether or not London becomes the first city to adopt 5G more consistently depends on two players”, says Dohler. “The operators, who need to decide whether it’s worthwhile upgrading the infrastructure right now, and the Greater London Authority, because it won’t be worth the operators going in to a lot of areas — such as indoors and underground. It will be up to the GLA or government to help the operators move into those spaces.”
Businesses also have their part to play, by understanding 5G’s transformative potential. “Anywhere that gets this technology up and running will experience a boost in GDP,” says Dohler. “There are endless studies that show the correlation between GDP and connectivity.” London, what are you waiting for?
At Workspace we’re already Super Connected. We go the extra mile to provide our customers with gold-standard, futureproof connectivity through our digital partner, Excell, installing superfast, reliable connectivity with speeds of up to 100Mbps to all devices. Our Dot11 Wi-Fi network is installed throughout all Workspace business centres in 64 properties across London and also keeps customers connected wherever and however they wish to work.
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