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Much has been written about how 5G will transform our lives, unleashing a wide range of innovative, value-adding applications. A recent study, commissioned by the GSMA, a trade association representing the interests of global mobile network operators, has concluded that this revolution in networking technology and performance will drive a $565 billion increase in global GDP by 2034 (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Estimated impact of 5G on the global economy (Source: GSMA)
In this article, we examine what it is about 5G that gives it this enormous potential and what applications are most likely to deliver this increased economic benefit.
The Three Generic 5G Use Cases
The International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) 5G requirements specification identified three broad use cases for services (Figure 2), with most current and emerging applications likely to require a combination of these.
Figure 2: 5G Use Case Scenarios (Source: ITU)
Not all applications will require all of the functionality offered by 5G and many will require various combinations, possibly varying dynamically. A remote sensor may spend much of its life in standby mode, only responding to periodic poll requests. In this mode, low data-rate communication and battery saving is a priority until an event occurs which requires it to take action, in which case higher burst of data may need to be transmitted, changing the usage characteristics of the device.
5G uses a technique known as network slicing, based on software-defined networking and network functions virtualisation techniques, to dynamically allocate resources and capacity to applications, based on their needs. This powerful technique enables the allocated resources to change as the application’s needs change and offers creative and competitive charging models for network operators.
We now take a closer look at a range of the most popular and emerging applications which are likely to be early beneficiaries of 5G’s network performance.
Today's Standout Apps
As discussed above, the weight of expectation on 5G is significant in terms of the incremental economic growth it is expected to deliver. Although many of these economic benefits may be based on applications that are yet to emerge, those that are currently visible are summarised in Table 2. The remainder of this section considers a sample of current, high profile applications which are set to integrate 5G capabilities.
|Benefit Area||Examples||Potential Benefits|
Faster & more reliable connectivity for a wide range of users in environments such as road & rail, dense areas and at home
Increased consumer value & productivity gains
New Consumer Devices & Services
Smart devices and services including immersive media & entertainment, healthcare wearables and autonomous vehicles
Variety of consumer & business benefits, driven by innovation
New IoT solutions
Examples include advanced asset tracking, remote control, predictive maintenance and sensor-enabled processes across multiple sectors
Smarter Infrastructure & public services
Street lighting, traffic management, energy grids
More efficient and secure service delivery, environmental benefits
Table 2: Summary of Anticipated 5G Benefits
Autonomous vehicle technology
Whilst forecasts of absolute values vary, all analysts agree that the connected car market will experience rapid growth over the next five years, with some predicting a 17.1% CAGR between now and then, for a total global market value of $225 billion by 2025.
The connected car interacts with its environment, communicating with other vehicles, roadside infrastructure, pedestrians, remote data centres and other entities. The term Vehicle to Everything (V2X) has been defined to describe the subset of technologies that enable this connectivity, and 3GPP, the global standards body responsible for defining 5G standards, has been building progressive cellular support for V2X technologies into its releases (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Evolution of 3GPP V2X standards (Source: 5GAA, Timeline for Deployment of c-V2X – Update)
Trials of fully autonomous vehicles such as Google’s Waymo, BMW’s Vision iNext and Tesla’s models may be grabbing headlines, but the reality is that widespread roll-out of these vehicles is still some way off. Reliable and safe operation requires that the connected car responds in real-time to events around it and this capability depends on 5G levels of latency. Additionally, the future self-driving vehicle will generate vast quantities of data – as much as 2 million Gbps - as it senses and communicates with its environment. The evolution of the fully autonomous car, therefore, depends upon 5G.
Industry 4.0 factories
A fundamental change, referred to as Industry 4.0, is sweeping through manufacturing, driven by the needs of volatile global markets. To survive in this increasingly competitive environment, organisations are striving to improve the efficiency of their operations whilst maintaining quality of production. The Industry 4.0 smart factory model (Figure 4) replaces traditional static and sequential production systems with flexible, modular and versatile production techniques, combining human expertise with automation, including cyber-systems.
Figure 4: The Industry 4.0 Smart Factory (Source: “The Smart Factory, Responsive, Adaptive, Connected Manufacturing”, Deloitte University Press)
Automated processes are enabled by sensors embedded in most modern items of industrial equipment, enabling them to communicate status and receive and respond to commands. Today’s markets demand ever-increasing levels of product customisation, driving frequent reconfigurations of the production space and rendering classic hard-wired networks obsolete. The performance characteristics of 5G networks, including real-time support, promise to both accelerate the deployment and expand the scope of Industry 4.0 techniques.
The high-speed data rates, high bandwidths and low latencies of 5G networks are also key enablers of the emerging field of Cloud robotics, where a central “brain”, located in a data centre shares resources such as artificial intelligence and other advanced software technologies across a number of remote robots. By capitalising on the triple advantages of information sharing, offloaded computation and collaboration, cloud robots are expected to generate new value chains, technologies, and business models, in areas such as logistics, security and surveillance, personal assistance and education.
5G network performance also promises opportunities to transform healthcare, bringing cost savings and operational efficiencies (Figure 5). Manufacturers of medical equipment are increasingly equipping their devices with IoT sensors to gather patient data and enable remote monitoring of health and administration of medication.
Emerging applications include wearable devices, secure online consultations, and remote procedures such as robotic surgery. Enabling patient management outside of the traditional hospital environment will bring savings on expensive face-to-face consultation time and will also reduce the number of journeys for short consultations.
Figure 5: 5G Use Case Categories in Healthcare
Deployment considerations and cost-benefit
One caveat to these forecasts is that the study assumes that mmWave infrastructure will be rolled out in a timely manner, unlocking the real potential of 5G in terms of bandwidth and data rates. For most of the operators, mmWave infrastructure will require significant investments making the business case challenging, as many are still recouping cash spent on 4G/LTE, current revenues are plateauing and incremental revenues from 5G will only start to flow after the investments have been made. A study of most operators’ current roll-out plans shows a focus on the 1 GHz to 6 GHz band, leveraging existing 4G/LTE infrastructure - 5G NRA non stand-alone (NSA). This strategy enables early access to 5G revenue streams whilst delaying further investments but is short term, as this area of the spectrum is crowded, and in the next five years most global operators will have used up their allocations in this band.
Operators around the world are taking their first steps with 5G roll-out, balancing investments against incremental revenue opportunities. Whilst most are leveraging existing 4G/LTE infrastructure to offer services based on 5G NSA networks, this is a short-term strategy.
Pressure is building from a number of applications for the 5G performance levels that can only be delivered over mmWave infrastructure; autonomous cars, for example, will not become a reality without the latencies and bandwidths available at these higher frequencies.
We can, therefore, expect to see the latent demand of these and other applications accelerating the full roll-out of 5G networks in key markets.