Is the 5G Revolution Really Here?
For several years now, 5G has been touted as the next revolutionary technology. Recently, we’ve seen it rolled out on a large scale across the globe. The hype around the fifth generation of wireless technology was immense, but what about the outcomes so far? Many consumers have felt underwhelmed by speed, coverage, and the of lack innovative applications.
After all, driverless cabs aren’t picking us up quite yet!
However, 5G’s successes have to some extent flown under the radar, notably in the B2B space.
In this blog, I take a look at the state of 5G, whether it can live up to the hype, and what we can expect from 5G soon.
What does 5G promise?
Quite simply, the next generation of mobile networks is designed to deliver an astounding user experience and enable a wide array of new models and services in various industries.
As such, it promises high network speeds, more reliability, and lower latency. Essentially, 5G focuses on three particular areas of improvement:
- Enhanced mobile broadband
- Mission-critical communications
- Massive connectivity
For users, this means faster downloads, cheaper connectivity, and all-new immersive experiences, like augmented and virtual reality.
For industries, 5G signals automation and remote control through ultra-reliable, available, and low-latency networks. This is applicable to everything from autonomous driving and operations to remote industrial control and healthcare services. Finally, massive IoT refers to everything becoming seamlessly connected using sensors, cloud, and AI. This is the kind of technology that will enable smart homes, factories, driving, cities, and so on, where every device talks and understands the entire ecosystem.
Has 5G delivered?
Higher rates, but only for some consumers
There are many stats and predictions on 5G penetration so far. By November 2021, 112 countries had begun 5G rollout, and some are more advanced than others. Norway, South Korea, UAE, and China are leading in upload and download speeds according to this study. Some sources say that the US and China have both reached over 80% 5G coverage, and countries are steadily expanding 5G access for consumers. At the same time, millions of consumers already have devices that support 5G, especially as mid-range models have quickly become available on the market in the past couple of years.
That said, not all 5G is the same. Having access does not necessarily guarantee higher performance because of the complex nature of 5G’s relationship with spectrum. Essentially, 5G is designed to primarily rely on two types of spectrum.
This allows it to capitalize on the advantages of each, while making up for their individual shortcomings. The problem is that not all operators can access the spectrum resources they need to set up the perfect 5G network. In most countries, operators have to bid on spectrum and they can’t always secure the exact mix they need. In China, spectrum resources are allocated, which has helped faster roll out.
Ultimately, this means that depending on how each operator is able to set up its 5G network and what spectrum it has access to, the specs that 5G delivers will vary. That’s why some users are even seeing lower speeds on 5G than on 4G. The good news is that this is likely to change as more spectrum resources become available and 5G access becomes more universal.
Automation and remote control: 5G changes industries
On the industry side, 5G has made more of a dent. Not quite at the scale or impact that lives up to its full potential, but we are starting to see significant new applications of 5G across various industries. Most of these are seen in more isolated environments, such as factories, campuses, hospitals, ports, mines, and so on. It will still take some time to see 5G’s impact on highly interconnected industries like logistics or transportation. This is partly because of similar issues in spectrum and lack of infrastructure, but also in large part because the upfront investment is quite high, making businesses hesitant to commit just yet.
That said, what is working, is doing it really well.
For example, we are seeing ports becoming a lot safer and more efficient. With over 2,000 ports around the world, this is a huge game changer for the shipping industry. Combined with cloud and AI, 5G enables things like remote control of cranes and other operations, smart scheduling so goods clear ports faster, and a safer work environment for port staff.
Safety is actually one of the big advantages of 5G in industrial use cases. The mining industry is an important beneficiary. Because 5G offers more bandwidth and better connectivity, mines can finally automate operations and reduce the amount of risky activities its workers undertake. 5G also delivers more reliable, secure connectivity so different device connect to each other and make mining more efficient.
Healthcare is also seeing a huge transition with 5G, with the COVID-19 pandemic highlighting how important digitalization is for everyone, but particularly the healthcare industry. That’s because 5G’s specs allow for things like remote diagnosis and support to frontline healthcare workers, contactless interactions, telemedicine during lockdowns, and so much more. Sure, we are not there yet with remote surgery, but these small steps are alleviating some of the burden healthcare workers face daily, all thanks to faster, more capable networks enabled with 5G.
The road ahead for 5G
Ultimately, 5G isn’t just going to change our lives overnight. We are going to see gradual changes both in consumer and industrial applications, many of which will rely on 5G. As any new technology, rollout and maturity take time, but the process is ongoing.
Coverage is slated to continue growing as is market penetration, with the tipping point for consumers expected in 2023. There is no doubt that the world has changed in the past couple of years, and 5G will continue to support the transition to remote work and learning. AR and VR have already seen some success thanks to 5G, and once operators can sort out who gets which spectrum, they will become even more mainstream.
Smaller private networks in specific industrial use cases will also continue seeing the benefits of 5G earlier on. But the logistics industry or autonomous driving may not see the full benefits of 5G for a while still because they would rely on ubiquitous access to high-quality 5G networks. Once 5G is fully rolled out though, we are going to start seeing automation across the board, which is going to change a lot of the ways in which our society and economy function.
A lot will also depend on regulations and education. Depending on how each government manages spectrum bidding and allocation, some countries may stay ahead while others fall behind. At the same time, frontrunners in 5G deployment have the responsibility to educate both consumers and companies on what 5G is and what it’s not. Uptake will largely depend on perception, so it’s important to present both B2C and B2B markets with realistic predictions on what 5G can do for them.
At the end of the day, some of the things that 5G and future generations of mobile networks will enable probably haven’t even been invented yet, while others are already here. It perhaps wasn’t widely anticipated that once 4G took hold, we’d be using apps for absolutely everything and smart phones would become our tools for communication, daily needs, exercise, work, travel, and everything in between.
But I, for one, am looking forward to finding out what a world powered by 5G has in store both in the near and far future.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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- 5G: Opening up New Business Opportunities [white paper]
Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.