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5G: a technology revolution awaits

Checking bathroom queues from your seat in the stadium, timing your car journey to the traffic lights, operating a crane from thousands of miles away - Andrew Patterson looks at what 5G can really do

If you’re one of those early technology adopters and you happen to live in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Queenstown, chances are you’re already a 5G convert.

It also means you’ve already upgraded your smartphone, a necessary requirement for accessing 5G. [Tip: If you’re planning on upgrading your phone anytime soon make sure you opt for a 5G model.]

But for the rest of the population still to experience this transformative mobile technology, a treat awaits - particularly for business customers.

Lindsay Zwart, Vodafone NZ’s Business Director, says the possibilities 5G offers are seemingly endless.

“Think of 5G as 4G on steroids - faster, leaner and bigger. Download speeds of up to one gigabyte per second, up to 10 times more capacity than 4G, data transmission speeds up to 10 times faster putting an end to those painful buffering interruptions. And how’s this: 5G is able to support up to 1 million devices per square kilometre.”

For consumers, the biggest attraction is likely to be download speeds while for business it will be a myriad of possible applications, including collaborative robots or ‘cobots’.

“Speed is interesting for any consumer to improve the user experience, but for business it’s absolutely critical when you have systems relying on it.”

Vodafone NZ’s Business Director Lindsay Zwart. Photo: Supplied

Imagine this: you’re sitting in the stadium about to watch an All Black test. (Yes, they will return at some point!) With 5G you will have access to instant replays, player and team stats and just about any other info on the game you’re wanting, all at your fingertips. And who wants to miss the action when it’s time to buy a beer or some food. No problem. You’ll be able to place your order from your seat and have it delivered to you. Or what about this: which bathrooms have the smallest queue or where is the shortest line is for a beer refill? Easy, it will all be on your phone.

All of this will be possible with 5G, bringing together the best of the at home convenience with the live event experience. And let’s face it, sport is meant to be watched live - but 5G will enhance it to a whole new level.

“For those who say some of this capability already exists, you are talking about a vast difference in processing speed and the number of connected devices. With augmented reality on your phone enabling you to access player stats, choose your own instant replay, or zoom into parts of the field you want to see - 5G can make the in-stadium experience even better, all at the same time as thousands of other fans are doing the same thing. That’s the difference, and where network capacity comes into play.”

Similarly for business, the offerings 5G will allow are equally compelling. Apply augmented and virtual reality (AR & VR) here too. The speeds and low latency that 5G offers means that these technologies are primed to explode as the network rolls out. VR and AR will be able to be wireless, ultra-realistic and even more responsive.

Imagine a builder using innovations such as Microsoft Hololens on 5G mobile technology to overlay the wiring schematics within a wall before cutting into it, or an apprentice mechanic being able to refer to a virtual online manual and demo while working on a car engine. These types of applications will become standard for training, simulations across a range trades. It will also have significant applications in the healthcare sector as well allowing paramedics to send patient information to the hospital in advance of arrival.

“My brother is a paramedic and he tells me one of the biggest issues they face is getting critical patient data such as EKG reports to the hospital before the patient arrives. 5G will allow this to happen ensuring the patient has a much better chance of survival in life or death situations.”

And then there’s the often talked about, but not well understood, Internet of Things or IoT.

Think of IoT as a series of multiple networks connecting all kinds of devices that will effectively be able to 'talk' to one another. Remember how 4G drove the widespread adoption of smartphones, well 5G will be driven by increasing capacity and the huge potential that intelligent data analytics offers.

Cars are a good example. They are already becoming more than just a vehicle that gets us from point A to point B. 5G will create new opportunities to collect and compute all sorts of vehicle data in real time, as well as exchange that information with other devices on the journey. This could soon mean driving to your next destination knowing that traffic lights will synchronize to that exact route, at the exact time, notifying the car park and entrance barrier of your arrival to the second. Everything will be connected to make your journey as seamless as possible.

One of the more futuristic possibilities with 5G is the development of collaborative robots or 'cobots'. The low latency, or lag time, means that automation is incredibly fast and ultra-responsive. Cobots will be able to work alongside a human colleague, performing the same actions at the same time, perhaps assisting with repetitive tasks or shouldering the burden of hard labour. Even large automation can be equipped with fast reaction speeds thanks to 5G, meaning less of a safety risk for humans working around it - the e-Go car factory in Germany is already proving that smart manufacturing can increase efficiencies and reduce costs.

5G can also mean greater ability for remote control operations. For example, take the case of a crane operator. Currently there is a lot of wasted time when operating a crane, waiting for it to be loaded before manoeuvring the load to where it needs to be then waiting for it to be unloaded before swinging it back around and repeating the steps. With 5G a crane could be operated manually from the ground and one crane driver could operate multiple cranes from a central control desk; or even controlled remotely from nearby or a few or a thousand kilometres away.

For those thinking of future career options, development of specialist applications for this new technology will be a bit like a painter starting with a blank canvas.

“5G opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Many of the ideas and innovations this technology will be able to drive haven’t even been developed yet. There will be the opportunity to develop applications in the same way we have with 4G but with a much greater level of complexity.”

So how ready are places like universities and potentially schools for teaching young designers and engineers of the future how to utilise this technology?

“When you go into these innovation labs in the universities the capability is definitely there but as yet we haven’t given students the tool sets or given them access to really start to visualise what is possible. We’ll definitely be building and plumbing these labs with 5G as well as building partnerships to help them develop and innovate new ideas for this technology.”

And what of the future? Given we’ve had 3G, 4G and now 5G, does that mean there will eventually be a 6G?

“If history is any guide, absolutely. Technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated and 6G is right around the corner. While we know the technologies of today, such as virtual reality, IoT and artificial intelligence will only grow in functionality and popularity, there is so much more innovation yet to come. The launch of 5G is another steppingstone into a future we probably can’t even conceive right now.”

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