Connectivity underpins everything in today’s digital world. It’s the vital foundation for the applications and technologies that we rely on in our daily lives – think maps, contactless payment, video calls, and the whole range of mobile communications.
As we move further into the digital age, we will be looking to build upon these technologies. And this means we will require more from our mobile networks. This is where 5G comes in. It’s a next-generation network robust and powerful enough to support the advanced applications we are striving for – things like connected homes, driverless cars, and augmented reality.
Governments around the world are establishing their 5G strategies right now so even though rollouts will take place over several years it’s important to start preparing now to ensure this ambitious target is met, enabling businesses and citizens to benefit from the opportunities 5G will bring.
What makes 5G different?
Unlike previous networks such as 4G and LTE, 5G isn’t based around a single type of technology. Instead, the fifth generation will build on the existing 4G framework that’s already in place. Over time, the existing framework will be extended with 5G infrastructure.
Although 5G will utilise some of the same technology as 4G, it will be far more advanced in terms of speed, coverage and reliability. 5G will be the fastest network we’ve ever seen, with potential speeds reaching 10Gb/s. Some are estimating that it will be 100 times speedier than the 4G we have now. But on top of this, 5G networks will also have much lower latency, meaning there won’t be any delay between asking your device to do something and it happening. Latency with current 4G networks can be quite noticeable, but with 5G it should be impossible to detect at less than 5 milliseconds.
Reliability is also set to improve with the introduction of 5G, since there will be a greater number of connection points in a smaller area allowing for an increased capacity. All these characteristics makes 5G the perfect platform for time-sensitive connections like healthcare and autonomous vehicles – cases where the network has to be totally trusted not to fail.
These characteristics set 5G apart from the connectivity we have experienced before – and what’s more, they will enable provision of the next-generation of digital services.
What’s the potential for a 5G connected world?
Unlike 4G which directly impacted people, 5G will impact us as citizens, employees and consumers –indirectly through businesses. There are already 8.4 billion things, of which 74 million are managed by Vodafone, but the majority of these sit behind the scenes in homes, hospitals, in vehicles and office blocks. Of course, we’re all aware of the internet-enabled thermostat sitting on the wall, but unlike 4G where the change was visible through the smartphone, most IoT devices using 5G will be much more discrete.
IoT, underpinned by 5G networks, will enable important innovations in healthcare. One of my favourite use cases is that it will enable specialists to perform surgery remotely through robotic instruments and cameras meaning patients can access a specialist wherever they are. We can also expect to see connected ambulances, just as we’re starting to see connected fire engines, capable of tracking the condition of patients on the way to hospitals, so that staff in A&E can prepare ahead of time.
In fact 5G is likely to improve all types of road travel, since it will provide the connectivity for autonomous vehicles to move safely and efficiently. As well as ensuring that autonomous cars are capable of driving themselves, 5G will also allow passengers to get online during their travel time. This is something we’ve already started to bring about, working alongside Lamborghini to create a state of-the-art infotainment system using Vodafone’s IoT connectivity.
In addition, 5G will revolutionise the way that we manage our built environment – including our homes. Using IoT we will be able to connect different household devices, like smoke detectors, temperature sensors, light switches and the heating system, so that everything can be regulated automatically. This personalisation and energy efficiency is the principle behind V-Home by Vodafone, the smart home solution which will be optimised by the arrival of 5G.
How do we prepare for 5G?
5G is the latest step in the evolving journey of mobile networking.
It will take time to be fully realised, but it will prove to be the most profound transformation that we’ve experienced in any prior generation of mobile technology.
The potential of this powerful new network is huge, and so are the opportunities it will provide. Businesses need to recognise the seismic shift that’s on the horizon, and start planning accordingly.
When it comes to building the future, there’s no time like the present.
By Erik Brenneis, CEO, Vodafone Global Enterprise