All the big carriers are bragging about their new 5G networks and how they are building out faster than the other guy. It’s rather obvious that 5G is the replacement for 4G, but what exactly does that mean? What improvements were made and how will this new technology be the game changer that carriers are claiming it will be? Let’s take a closer look at this technology and what it means for both consumers and businesses.
What is 5G?
To better understand what possibilities a new generation of cellular technology can bring, we’ll take a look at where the road has led thus far. The first generation appeared in 1979. These cellular phones were only capable of making phone calls and were quite expensive. It wasn’t until the second generation came around in 1991 that users could share text messages, images, and video. The third and fourth generations, which
appeared in 2001 and 2009, brought faster speeds and increased bandwidth over their predecessors. 5G continues that trend, but also brings with it dramatically reduced latency that will enable some exciting technologies to emerge. So, what does decreased latency mean for users?
What benefits does 5G bring?
Latency is the amount of time it takes for your request to make it to the server. For example, if you had a 1-second latency, it would take a full second before the server sees your request and can answer it. This would be fine for browsing the internet, but for real-time applications like gaming, it would not work. Your controls need to update the game quickly, and a full second isn’t fast enough. Most internet connections do not have latency that high. 4G has a latency of around 50ms. Fiber optic, the current state of the art in internet connectivity, has around 10-20ms. These are fast enough for trivial real-time applications such as gaming, but not for more sensitive applications.
5G will bring latency down to 1ms, and will boost the reliability of the connection on top of that. With latency that low, especially in a wireless system, new industries will be able to take full advantage of internet connectivity. Let’s look at how this technology will reshape the world around us.
What industries will 5G revolutionize?
Now that you know about the revolutionary new bandwidth, latency times, and reliability that 5G brings, it’s time to take a look at some of the exciting applications that will be able to take advantage of the new technology and fundamentally change the way we interact with the world around us.
- Manufacturing — The manufacturing industry is already in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, with internet of things (IoT) devices allowing previously unthought of levels of tracking and communication between devices and equipment. Sensors can send real-time data to monitoring computers that use the power of AI to optimize workflows and alert of possible problems before they can strike. Reduced latency and increased bandwidth and reliability will provide a step forward in what these new IoT enabled facilities will be able to do.
- Retail — Big data has already been a benefit for the retail industry. The ability to use a customer’s previous purchase decisions to recommend new products or to inform personalized marketing decisions has greatly increased the profitability of many businesses. 5G will expand upon that, with devices scattered throughout retail locations able to talk to customer’s mobile devices to drive the usage of big data and personalization even further. This could come in the form of products the customer may be interested in alerting the customer to a sale when they get close to it, or in the form of digital signage that personalizes itself to the customer that is nearest to it.
- Healthcare — As discussed earlier, laggy video game controls are one thing, but laggy remote surgical controls are another. Current internet technology does not have low enough latency to allow for the safe operations of medical devices remotely. 5G has the potential to change that, allowing the world’s best surgeons to be wherever they are needed instantly. The increased bandwidth will also allow the massive medical imaging files produced by state-of-the-art machines to be quickly shared with remote medical professionals. This, again, would allow for greater medical collaboration without distance being a factor.
- Self-driving vehicles — Latency and bandwidth are currently two big problems with self-driving cars. Cars can be alerted to dangers outside their line of sight by connected servers, but every millisecond delay in delivering that vital information decreases safety. The increased bandwidth capabilities will allow manufacturers to collect even more data about the performance and health of the vehicle, which will in turn help to reduce maintenance costs and drive innovations.
- AR/VR — In order to be convincing, augmented reality and virtual reality need to have near zero latency. Any delay between your head movement and what you see not only breaks immersion, but can cause feelings of extreme discomfort that are very similar to motion sickness. With 5Gs groundbreaking bandwidth and latency, providers will be able to deliver AR and VR content wirelessly and dynamically. This could mean wireless VR headsets with the graphics capability of the high-end GPUs that can now stream to them from remote locations.
- Municipalities — The very first traffic lights operated purely on a timer. So if you pulled up to red light on an empty intersection, you’d be sitting there until the light decided to turn green. Many years ago, sensors allowed the lights to detect when someone was waiting to go. This meant commuters no longer had to wait for nonexistent traffic before they could go, and side streets didn’t need to waste anyone’s time by turning green unless someone was there. 5G connectivity will allow those technologies to go a step further. Entirely new traffic flow technologies can be developed that route people in real time based on traffic conditions. Crowded parking lots at stadiums and other civic buildings can guide drivers to open parking spots.
What is the current state of 5G?
We’ve all seen the ads for 5G networks, but none of these wonderful new technologies has emerged yet. So beyond all the marketing hype, where are we with 5G currently? Unfortunately for most consumers, and for the companies who are looking to take advantage of this groundbreaking new technology, 5G is currently only available in a handful of the large metropolitan areas. The newest mobile devices coming out are 5G capable, so we’ll be ready to take full advantage of the technology once it’s use is more widespread.
What is the future of 5G?
With this exciting technology coming down the pike, you are likely wondering when we’ll all get to make use of it. The good news is that 5G is expected to expand faster than 4G did. During the first 7-years of 4G’s expansion, it went from 0 users to around 2 billion worldwide. In the same amount of time, the 2020 Ericsson Mobility Report forecasts that 5G will have 2.8 billion users. This means that more people will have 5G in 2025 than had 4G in 2016.
Some of the technologies mentioned can begin to make use of 5G much quicker. Factories that are within metropolitan areas that support the technology need only to wait for IoT manufacturers to develop 5G capable devices. Two hospitals who are each also in a supported area can do the same. Technology like self-driving cars, however, simply won’t be viable until 5G has a much larger coverage than it does now. Either way, companies are already finding innovative ways to take advantage of 5G, and they’ll continue to do so while we wait for mass availability.
If you want to talk about how your business can benefit from 5G technology, either now, or in the future, reach out to a Provato Group technologist for a discussion. Our team of experts will be glad to answer your questions and perhaps give you more concrete information about the state of 5G in your specific area.