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Is 5G a solution looking for a problem?

Many telcos have barely started rolling out 4G networks and already there is talk of the next set of advanced services that could be enabled by a 5G network. Inevitably, there are many uncertainties around the technology and allocation of spectrum, and standards are yet to be agreed.

Is 5G a solution looking for a problem to solve?

We don’t think so.

Advanced applications across healthcare, automobile/transport, manufacturing, logistics, consumer appliances and entertainment are being envisaged. What is clear is that the emerging services fall in two categories:

A. Transformational services B. Incremental Improvements on 3G/4G services

A: Examples of Transformational services

  • Autonomous driving/connected cars - A Traffic management system that connects all vehicles on the road with a central network. Vehicles could potentially travel at much higher speeds and within greater proximity of each other with minimal risk of accident. In addition, fully-autonomous cars can further reduce the potential for human error. While such systems would not require Gbps bandwidth, providing data with a command response time close to zero would be crucial for their safe operation, and thus such applications are likely to require sub 1 millisecond end-to-end delay.

  • Critical control of remote medical devices as the aging population increases and there is a shortage of skilled medical experts healthcare requires radical new ways to provide care and surgery to patients. And this has to be done cost effectively. A surgeon from a central location carrying out surgery in multiple locations is being envisaged. In order for such applications to work, the service needs ultra-low latency and high reliability.

B: Examples of Incremental Improvements on 3G/4G

  • Expansive Machine-to-machine connectivityTypical M2M applications can be found in ‘connected home’ systems (e.g. smart meters, smart thermostats, and smoke detectors), consumer electronics and healthcare monitoring. While most applications currently transmit low levels of data and are seldom time critical (satisfied by existing networks), the number of connected devices is expected to increase exponentially and thereby produce huge volumes of data which current networks may not be able to cope with.

  • Wireless cloud-base office/ multi-person video conferencing as use of cloud services for all applications – data, voice and video conferencing – become prevalent and widely adopted by office workers, the concept of a wireless cloud office is a reality. While it could be served by existing 4G networks, latency will need to be improved particularly for multi-person video conferencing.

  • Augmented Reality (AR) in ManufacturingHeads-up displays (HUDs) for technicians examining a complex piece of machinery like a jet engine are starting to be used. More such applications in a single factory and across multiple industries are being envisaged. These require fast throughput of large amounts of data to work with the next generation of HUDs and other AR devices.

What are the implications for the network?

5G networks are likely to require the following five attributes:

  1. High Data rates: 1-10Gbps

  2. Low Latency: 1millisecond end to end round trip delay

  3. Much more bandwidth: 1000x more bandwidth per unit area than available on current mobile networks

  4. Many more connections: Support 10-100 times more connected devices than are currently supported (IOT enablement), and last but not least

  5. Always on and high reliability


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