5G Technology

5G technology and the upsurge of connectivity

The increase in demand for wireless broadband services and the upsurge of connectivity of devices are driving the fifth generation of network technology (5G). Analysts predict that new applications will require lower latency, better connectivity, capacity efficiency, and better energy efficiency. The fifth generation of network technology will impact sectors such as; industrial automation, health services, smart city applications and consumer and business virtual and augmented reality services.

5G drivers

Today, the telecoms industry is still at an early stage in the development of 5G. The complete roll-out is set to be 2025. The two major drivers for 5G are; the increasing demand for the many different broadband services delivered over mobile network and the development of services for the Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Start by the increasing demand for broadband services, the rapid volume of data is driven by consumer demand for video and business applications. These examples include virtual and augmented reality but also different video and haptic feedback applications. Furthermore, the importance of IoT technology is also pushing for new wireless network technologies.  Different prediction shows that by 2020 it will be around 23 billion IoT devices. This will lead to new low-cost devices and modules for connected cities, smart homes, and industrial applications. In the industrial setting, critical communication between machines requires high reliability and low latency. Examples include remote surgery and connected cars that require mission-critical communication. There are 4 key drivers of 5G development:

  1. Latency reduction for new services
  2. The increase in IoT connections
  3. New spectrum opportunities
  4. Increase in data volume (e.g. video services)

Network Slicing

This is a feature that allows the network operator to provide multiple virtual networks to be created on top of a common shared physical infrastructure. These virtual networks can be adapted to meet customer specific needs and services.  This feature is set to play a critical in 5G networks as it will allow flexibility and optimization different communication requirements.

The roll-out of 5G

The broad availability of 5G networks to be accessed by consumers are still several years away. Major network operators in Europe, US and Asia have begun to roll out 5G. In South Korea, 5G was tested during the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, see video here.

5G applications

Intelligent Transport Systems

Intelligent Transport Systems will require very low latency that is now offered today. Imagine connected vehicles that are communicating with each other to avoid collisions, it is expected that such systems to require 5ms latency and 99.999% reliability. The transportation sector and connected vehicle are seen as a sector with large opportunities for 5G. These services will use large-file and real-time data exchange.

The Smart Factory and Industrial Applications

The smart factory concept is part of industrial automation and robotics transformation. Connectivity will play an integral part in connecting machines for extracting data for simulation and optimization. On top of this, real-time communication for controlling machines and process will require new network capabilities. The communication networks for within and beyond the factory will require reliability, secure and low-power requirements. This is predicted that it will be applied in areas such as predictive maintenance and operations management. Today’s cellular network can today be used for several different applications but for mission-critical applications reliability and robustness are important factors.

The Smart Factory and 5 Use Case Categories

A white-paper written by Bedo et al (2015) illustrates 5 use-case families for the smart factories of the future. These are summarized below.

  1. Time-Critical Closed Loop:

These are concerning the time-critical activities in the factory. Here is the focus on process optimization and efficiency. Fast communication between several machines can increase efficiency and flexibility. It can also be used for fast transfer of video to AR applications for training and maintenance. These applications will transfer heavy data with large files like 3D models and large data sets.

2. Trace Goods:

These are concerning non-time-critical communications such as identifying goods within the factory. Here, the focus is on minimizing inventory levels and increasing flexibility. Sensors capture data for design and forecasting for the production of new products. One example is to connect the forklifts to optimize their routes.

3. Remote Control

Here focus lies on higher quality  control where you can inspect and diagnose their products remotely. Service operators can use smart glasses to produce 3D models of a product and maintain the product in place without sending it to the workshop.

4. Inter-Enterprise

Here is the focus on the entire value chain of following the goods in the entire supply chain. Other activities include exchanging data for simulation and design with a focus on the entire organization and its value chain. One example is that two nearby factories can be linked together and exchange data for production and logistics.

5. Connected Goods

By ensuring that products are connected throughout their lifetime, it is possible to obtain data about the product and its environment. The data collected is used for more sales and new products and services. Already today there are examples of products sold as a service and where maintenance is handled by the manufacturing company.

Smart Health

With faster, lower-latency and more reliable networks many new opportunities will be open. Imagine for example remote, robotic surgery using VR and different haptic technologies. These type of mission-critical medical activities can work only if network performance is reliable with lower-latency.

two person doing surgery inside room
Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. on Pexels.com

Smart cities

Another area for 5G networks is associated with smart city applications. In the smart city concept, data from multiple sources are collected together to allow better planning, more flexibility and in real-time. These applications are seen as mission-critical as many devices and sensors in the smart city are related to energy management, waste and water services, and traffic planning.

The functional aspect of 5G

The definition of 5G concerning technical and service concepts are under development. Today, some performance criteria’s has been identified and this is summarized in the table below. There is also some different view between service providers and vendors related to the importance of different performance criteria’s. For many operators or service providers the criteria of low latency(1ms in the air link, <10ms device to the core, 100x increase in connection density and 90% energy efficiency improvements over LTE is seen as essential to consider a network as 5G. The innovation needed to fully delivery 5G is concerning network architecture, frequency bands, and energy efficiency and antenna improvements. Another important aspect is also regarding standardization issues such as defining relevant standards both regionally and globally. In the figure below, the differences between 4G and 5G are summarized.

  4G 5G
Latency 10ms <1ms
Data Traffic 7.2 Exabyte’s/Month 50 Exabyte’s/Month
Peak Data Rates 1 Gb/s 20 Gb/s
Available Spectrum 3 GHz 30 GHz
Connection Density 100 Thousand Connections /Km² 1 Million Connections/Km²
Network All data sent and to and from the network Device-to-communication can also bypass the network

Final words

The benefits of 5G technology can change our society, economy, and industry. However, it is needed to state that it may take a long time before consumers can see the availability of 5G networks. In many developed countries, 3G and 4G technology are still under development and improvement. The demand for 5G will start with new business models that require frictionless and real-time communication between devices and machines.  There are also security and privacy concerns that need more attention in order to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure in societies. The international standards around 5G are also under development and should be developed in collaboration and partnership with government, industry and network operators.

Another topic that needs attention is regarding how 5G can be monetized.  It is not clear whether network operators, telecoms companies or service provider can find new revenue streams while reducing cost and improving customer experience. Many customers today are using 4G and many will be reluctant to pay heavy prices for better services.  However, as emergent technologies and principles in IoT, drones, robotics, and online gaming are growing in popularity there will be huge opportunities to find new business strategies for monetization.

I see 5G as a driver for the positive possibilities that lie within concept smart health, smart factories, and intelligent transport systems to create sustainable development in our society and economy. I am hoping for collaboration and innovation between a broad set of partners to leverage 5G technology for data analytics, real-time communication, and AI to bring sustainable solutions in education, healthcare and communications.

Sources and further readings

GSA The road to 5G

PwC Making 5G Pay

Bedo et al (2015). The 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (5G PPP), ”5G and the Factories of the Future”, 2015

Ericsson What is 5G

5G UK – What is 5G


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