5G is a buzzword that has been going around for years, but its implications go far beyond what many people know about it. Most people know that it means a faster internet connection, and that’s true – you’ll be able to download an HD movie in seconds, rather than the 20 minutes or more that it takes with current top Internet speeds. However, 5G is much more than just a more convenient Internet for the individual user – it has the potential to dramatically change the world we live in.
5G is the next step in mobile broadband. At first, it will complement currently existing 4G technology, but eventually we will have 5G-only networks and standalone 5G devices. In addition, carriers will be able to use radio wavelengths that haven’t been usable before. This means much greater capabilities for increasing both the communications speed and the number of devices that can communicate with each other.
One of the areas where 5G will have a major impact will be the Internet of Things. IoT, which involves the intercommunication of multiple smart devices, is a rapidly growing area of technology that ranges from smart watches to medical devices to autonomous vehicles. The research company Gartner predicts that there will be 20.4 billion connected devices in the world by 2020. In order to handle that kind of data flow without lags, we will need a much stronger wireless infrastructure. That’s where 5G comes in.
The impacts of 5G will show up in various areas as the technology expands. A stronger Internet of Things means faster development of autonomous vehicles, which depend on the data gathered and transmitted by a complex network of sensors. Retail experiences will be enhanced as retailers can gather data about shoppers and personally tailor their shopping experiences, as well as incorporating more augmented and virtual reality applications.
One area that will see some of the greatest changes from 5G is healthcare. Right now, there are still far too many areas that suffer from subpar healthcare due to their remote locations, but 5G could change that, making things like remote surgery possible. A surgeon in China actually performed the first 5G-enabled remote surgery on a lab animal this past January. The surgeon, who was located in the Chinese province of Fujian, controlled a robot located about 30 miles away, which removed the animal’s liver. If and when technology like this becomes mainstream, medical professionals could deploy robots into disaster areas, as well as regularly interacting with patients in rural and remote locations.
And then there is the idea of the smart, connected city. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is an example of one location that has been experimenting with becoming a “smart city.” Harrisburg has partnered with the company Telensa to try out various technologies, beginning with a smart street lighting system that was installed back in 2016. Recently the city incorporated Telensa sensors into other areas, including traffic analytics, air quality and waste monitoring. The data from these sensors is analyzed and combined with lighting data, where it is displayed in a smart dashboard. This allows operators to see correlations across departments.
Harrisburg will also be testing the technology for traffic adaptive lighting, which uses the data gathered by these sensors to adjust groups of streetlights based on traffic patterns. This could result in significant energy savings, which is only one potential benefit of smart city technology.
5G is being rolled out on a gradual basis – AT&T recently expanded its 5G coverage to include parts of 19 cities, but we have yet to see a fully 5G-connected city. The goal, however, is to eventually have 5G incorporated everywhere, for everyone, for a truly connected world.