Phones Are Just The Tip Of The 5G Iceberg

5G is not just an incremental upgrade to existing networks, but a radically new approach to communication.

Five [other] cases for 5G

As the most ubiquitous aspect of 5G, enhanced internet speed is the application that most people can relate to. But phones are really just the tip of the 5G iceberg; the real impact of 5G is likely to be felt in smart factories, smart cities and even on the surgeon’s operating table. Here are five ways 5G is already making a difference.

  1. Tactile internet
  2. In modern telephony, the time to beat for getting our voice across to the other party is 100 milliseconds. Beyond that, we will notice a lag that disrupts the flow of conversation. The threshold is more stringent for transmitting visual information—each frame of a television program has to be delivered within 10 milliseconds of the last.

    The requirements are even more demanding when transmitting the sense of touch. To enable tactile interactions over the internet, such as those needed to remotely operate robotic arms based on visual feedback from a video screen, the lag-time should ideally be kept to within one millisecond.

    Telemedicine is one area that would benefit from ultra-low latency 5G networks. In collaboration with China Mobile and Huawei, Ling Zhipei from the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in China completed a deep brain stimulation surgery for a patient suffering from Parkinson’s disease located 3,000 km away. Thus, 5G networks could allow doctors to provide timely treatment across geographical barriers, offering patients greater access to healthcare.

  3. Virtual reality
  4. Forget about video—in the future, we could be live-streaming events in virtual reality (VR). However, delays of more than 10 milliseconds could cause nausea, preventing VR from being widely accepted. Once again, 5G’s low latency comes to the fore, this time coupled with the benefit of high bandwidth that allows it to carry data-intensive VR content. To demonstrate the capabilities of 5G, Samsung live-streamed 360 ̊ video from the Untold Music Festival in Romania, one of the world’s largest electronic dance music festivals.

    In addition to video streaming, 5G helps VR headsets offload computationally-intensive tasks such as motion processing to the cloud. Instead of relying on an on-board computer like most VR headsets currently in the market, 5G seamlessly connects headsets to the cloud and allows the computations to be performed more efficiently there. This approach also reduces the weight of headsets, making them more comfortable to wear for long periods.

    Valuing the VR industry at US$100 billion, Huawei has launched an innovation program called the Dual-G Cloud Initiative. Under this initiative, Huawei and partners like VR OpenLab and NVIDIA are working together to develop technology, business models and content with the goal of serving 100,000 Cloud VR customers by the end of the year

  5. Smart factories
  6. While we are no strangers to robots replacing humans on the factory floor, a new development in Industry 4.0 is the advent of smart factories, where these machines can directly talk to each other. Through IoT networks, machines can now continuously share data about their operational status to facilitate maintenance and troubleshooting.

    However, there is a limit to the number of IoT devices that can simultaneously transmit data over a network. 5G networks that can support a hundred times more devices than 4G ones—up to one million within a kilometre square area—are thus required for the large-scale implementation of IoT in smart factories.

    To test 5G technologies, China has been deploying the network in 16 major cities since early 2018. In August 2019, Huawei, China Mobile and Haier collaborated to launch an interconnected factory with 5G, IoT and artificial intelligence in the Qingdao province. Working together, these technologies analyze data and help companies reduce costs by optimizing the manufacturing process. Similarly, Panasonic and NEC are also building customized 5G networks for Japanese factories.

  7. Smart grids
  8. Though often taken for granted, an uninterrupted supply of electricity is essential for modern cities, with blackouts disrupting almost every aspect of life. Smart grids, which use a network of sensors to monitor and control the power supply, could help ensure reliability and cut energy costs.

    5G could help grid sensor devices recognize and rectify anomalies at speeds close to real-time. For instance, a smart grid system connected to a 5G network with latency below 10 milliseconds could identify and automatically isolate the area of a power fault to affect as few users as possible within just 100 milliseconds.

    Furthermore, smart grids could enable renewable energy to be seamlessly integrated into the electricity supply. By automatically detecting imbalances and rapidly re-configuring the power distribution system, smart grids prevent peaks and troughs in renewable energy sources from disrupting the supply.

    Vietnam, where local demand for electricity is expected to increase 2.5 times by 2030, is currently looking to develop 5G-based smart grid solutions in partnership with South Korea, according to English language daily Viet Nam News.

  9. Autonomous vehicles
  10. Self-driving cars are an excellent use case for 5G as they have unique requirements for ultralow latency, which is exactly what 5G was designed for. While human response times average at about 300 milliseconds, 5G networks could potentially respond 300 times faster, making the difference between life or death in the case of autonomous vehicles (AVs).

    In addition to built-in sensors like LiDAR, which enable AVs to ‘see’ their immediate surroundings, the Vehicle to Everything (V2X) communication protocol provides additional information on the movement of other vehicles and nearby pedestrians. With 5G, vehicles and pedestrians (through their mobile phones) could automatically broadcast their location, providing self-driving cars with nearly real-time information.

    Beyond safety, the V2X protocol could make commuting more efficient as well, allowing connected cars to drive in a ‘platoon’ to ease congestion. To tap into the multi-billion-dollar self-driving vehicle market, South Korean telecommunications carrier KT has developed a V2X reader that can measure the distance of a vehicle to other vehicles and detect both pedestrians and traffic signals, with plans to test it in Seoul, Pangyo and Daegu.

This article was first published in the January 2020 print version of Asian Scientist Magazine.
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Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Illustration: Shelly Liew/Supercomputing Asia.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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