Why the UK Needs 5G Everywhere
Earlier this year, I had the chance to visit Huawei’s new 5G Innovation and Experience Centre (5GIEC) in the City of London. This facility showcases some of the most compelling new use cases for products and services delivered over 5G networks. And, crucially, every single one of them is real and being commercially deployed somewhere in the world. Away from the hype and fantasies of the written page, the 5GIEC highlights 5G in action and serves as a telling reminder why the UK must urgently commit to ubiquitous 5G networks to remain competitive in the global market.
Read more: 5G Innovation in London’s Silicon Roundabout
A Global Perspective
We need to look at these use cases and consider why they are important to the economic development of the UK at this time. But first, we should understand the macro view.
5G is not yet being deployed universally at the same rate around the world. But within individual countries, we can see that normal competition and commercial rivalry between telcos is the first driving force behind the rollout of these networks. South Korea is an excellent example. The country’s three mobile telcos were all early pioneers and launched their 5G networks and services at around the same time early in 2019. This behaviour is a perfectly normal reflection of commercial considerations between competing businesses and we see it reflected in many countries with early pioneering 5G networks as they rush to maintain or improve their revenues.
Now, let’s consider an equivalent measure for nation states: GDP, which results from the value created by business activity and its efficiency. For UK businesses to compete on the world stage they must operate with similar or better efficiency than equivalent businesses in other countries. Otherwise they will be uneconomic and nobody will buy the UK’s products and services. AI delivered from the cloud over 5G networks, otherwise known as Digital Transformation, will be the driving force globally behind the next generation of automation and efficiency across industries resulting in reduced operating costs, improved customer satisfaction, and hence higher GDP.
This principle is underpinning the deployment of 5G in China where it is a top-down government strategy designed to drive the next phase of China’s economic development. Hence, 5G is not an activity that is limited to the telcos rolling out networks. It already involves many different industries from mining to entertainment, public transport to healthcare. Each pioneering use case will improve China’s competitiveness and GDP on the world stage.
The UK: Open for Business?
As the UK emerges from the EU, it must demonstrate to the world that it is open for business and that business must be efficient, cutting edge, and competitive. Otherwise, competing countries that are already ahead in the rollout of 5G networks will reap the reward of improved GDP driven by competitive industry growth if the UK is trailing in a second or third wave of 5G deployment.
Let’s be less abstract and take one of the early 5G use cases that is highlighted in the 5GIEC in London: The Smart Port. I like this because it proves that Digital Transformation is not an activity limited to high-tech, office-bound, or light industries. You don’t get much heavier than a container crane. Upon exiting the EU, the UK plans ten more free ports that will encompass container ship processing facilities and on-site manufacturing plants.
To compete with free ports in the EU and across the world, the UK’s new free ports must employ the highest levels of efficiency to deliver competitive pricing, otherwise nobody will use them. China already has most of the world’s biggest port infrastructure and it is advanced in using Digital Transformation to deliver operating efficiencies. Instead of crane operators climbing the long ladder to the cabin swaying in the wind and staying up there all day, the cranes are remotely controlled while high-resolution cameras send back multiple images showing exactly what’s going on to the operator.
Remote control requires the low latency of 5G while the high-resolution cameras utilise uplink bandwidth. By controlling these cranes remotely over 5G networks, the port can assign one operator to six cranes, delivering a clear efficiency cost-saving over time. Once the containers are offloaded, the contents will need sorting and delivering to manufacturing or assembly plants within the free port zone.
This activity must be designed from the ground up as an automated process, using autonomously-driven vehicles and AI connected over 5G networks to track and deliver the goods to and from their destination. And what about the manufacturing itself? AI in the cloud over 5G is expected to have a significant positive impact on the automation of manufacturing globally. Greenfield manufacturing or assembly plants in free ports will need to be built with cutting-edge use of AI over 5G to automate processes from the assembly line itself to predictive maintenance to quality assurance. It will be the only way to make them globally competitive moving forward.
So, there are three independent use cases for 5G in a single free port scenario that is already identified as a future driver of growth in the UK. We are already seeing other viable use cases enabled by the bandwidth and latency improvements of 5G across the globe in scenarios as diverse as live sports broadcasting, safety on public transport, manufacturing of precision machine parts, and numerous critical applications in medicine.
Download: 5G Smart Port White Paper
In broadcasting, the uplink bandwidth of 5G is being used to replace expensive satellite uplinks at live sports events delivering an additional cost saving by enabling all the production crew to remain in the studio with the live 4K cameras feeding direct to them over 5G.
In public transport, 4k cameras feed live images of bus drivers to AI in the cloud that detects in real time if the driver is falling asleep and sends an immediate alert to jolt them awake. That doesn’t work with the poorer image quality and slower response time capable over 4G networks.
In manufacturing, AI is detecting real-time vibrations in precision milling equipment to predict when the part may fail and shut down the process before the goods are spoiled.
And in medicine, the expertise of the specialist doctor is brought remotely to distant patients with examinations, diagnosis, and consultations taking place in real time as though they are in the same room.
The UK has no choice but to make itself a globally competitive and attractive territory to do business of all types. We cannot afford to lag behind the rest of Europe and the world in the roll out of 5G and industry itself should be clamouring for access to these networks to enable their own cost-efficient Digital Transformation so the UK reaps the reward of improved GDP growth at a time we so vitally need it.
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