Advanced Communications – Why do we need 5G?
Author: Derek Long
On Thursday 28th May Juliet Media hosted a well attended virtual panel on the subject of Advanced Communications. The panel included Tony Sceales of the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), Dritan Khaleshi of Digital Catapult, Jiri Laznicki IoT CTO of Orange and was chaired by Derek Long of Cambridge Consultants.
There has been a lot of discussion about the importance of 5G with detractors stating that existing technologies, such as 4G or WiFi, are sufficient or that new capabilities supported by 5G, such as Ultra Reliable Low Latency Connectivity (URLLC) and IoT, can be provided equally well by the existing technologies.
Whilst it might be possible to achieve similar types of services, it may be very challenging to do at the same cost point as 5G. With sufficient over provisioning, it is possible to get very good service from LTE or WiFi – the additional cost is derived from the low utilisation of the installed infrastructure. Similarly, with the IoT it is possible to use WiFi, 2G or LoRa networks for connectivity, with the drawbacks of increased size, weight and power consumption in the devices and significant additional infrastructure required to provide coverage.
The improved Quality of Service (QoS) that is inherent in 5G provides the necessary value for a whole new generation of services without the mentioned drawbacks. As such, the lower cost of data will enable a wider audience as well as richer experiences.
The audience of this panel were asked a number of poll questions. The first being: Which country do you look to for the cutting edge latest on 5G?
The winner by a large margin was South Korea. This is perhaps not surprising given that South Korea focussed their initial 5G activities on the Olympics in 2018, launched all three networks simultaneously and has been steadily growing subscriber numbers ever since. Interestingly, the UK came in second place – clearly a testament to the attention that DCMS’s Trials and Testbeds programme and their current ‘5G Create’ programme has drawn. Perhaps most surprising is that Germany and the US, with their focus on the use of 5G for industrial applications and private networks, came a long way behind in the poll. Clearly enterprise applications aren’t going to raise the level of excitement as consumer applications. On the other hand, as more of the services that we consume are delivered to us by enterprises operating increasingly online, in the long run, Germany and the US will gain the most from the improved cost efficiencies and the increased agility that 5G networks will provide.
Whilst the DCMS programmes have cast a spotlight on the services that can be provided by advanced networks, there has been increasing attention drawn to the state and availability of infrastructure to support those networks. The audience were particularly interested in the physical aspects of this infrastructure, namely the availability of spectrum and fibre capacity. Both are clearly pre-requisite to the success of 5G and in both cases there is clearly a lot to do. The frenetic activity to roll out fibre has lifted the UK to 20th place in term of fibre infrastructure. New spectrum bands have been made available for operators and last year Ofcom made localised and shared spectrum available for enterprises. Achieving the data production cost reductions enabled by 5G will require significant investment in both cases.
The second poll question was: Which industry vertical do you see as most exciting for 5G use cases?
The most popular response was ‘Manufacturing/Industry 4.0’ which perhaps is not surprising given the huge interest there currently is in private networks. 5G is often cited as a key technology enabler for connectivity within the enterprise, especially with its support for URLLC. Machine control will require the millisecond latencies that URLLC provides and there are many projects ongoing to explore the improvements that can be gained from deploying, for example Time Synchronous Networking over reliable wireless connectivity in place of the more costly and less flexible wired enterprise networks.
‘Media and gaming’ was the second most popular application. It’s clear there is a trend away from broadcast TV towards streaming on demand. It’s also clear that gaming is growing rapidly in competition with TV and evolving into e-sports with audiences that easily outcompete those of physical events. There is also growing interest in improving the 2-dimensional display-based experiences become augmented and virtual reality experiences, made possible by improved display technologies and QoS. There have been many visionary endeavours to explore the augmentation of sight and sound-based experience with other senses, such as touch, smell and taste. Clearly these innovations and applications made an impact on our audience. Perhaps in this time of lockdown we would like to see how technology, including 5G, can transport us to faraway places and experiences in a more realistic manner.
3rd place in the poll was ‘Health and social care’. It’s clear that this is going through dramatic transformation. Before Coronavirus, an aging population was driving costs of care up with more chronic illnesses. Costs were also increasing as treatments were becoming more complex. Industry has responded by shifting focus from the treating of illnesses to the managing of health through the use of data analytics. A change in focus in which technologies such as wearables, improved sensing and measurement of patients’ well-being and the remote provision of care services enables an improved quality of life.
So, why do we need 5G? It’s clear from the level of interest at the event that there’s huge interest in using the 5G platform for service delivery. Whether it’s manufacturing, entertainment, health care or any of the other applications that have been discussed, there is a widespread expectation that 5G is going to be the decisive enabler.
Less obvious is what the critical 5G capability is that is going to enable these exciting new use cases. Will the improved performance and efficiency of 5G enable the digital transformation of the enterprise that in turn reduces costs, improves agility and make us more resilient to external shocks?
Perhaps the low-cost wide area networking enabled by 5G will be used by enterprises to improve the products they provide to their customers. Whether this is through the superior insights of embedded telemetry, more sophisticated product development and the increased ability to update product software, or by enabling as-a-service business models.
Or is it that by providing significantly improved QoS at a cost efficiency and reliability that 4G and WiFi cannot that 5G will enable new more immersive and compelling experiences including augmented reality and haptics? By enabling the tight synchronisation between edge-based functionality, such as artificial intelligence, completely new experiences will be made possible in user products with considerably lower form factor, power and costs constraints. This could make such products available to far larger market segments than would otherwise be possible.
Countries around the world have identified 5G as a critical infrastructure for the 21st century and as a unique enabler for competitive advantage. The question now is can we also exploit the advantage we have?