The possibilities of 5G

In a recent post, we talked about mobile technology, and about the differences between the different generations. We touched on the fact that 5G technology offers possibilities going far beyond mobile phones. In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at that.

5G and transportation

We’re on the verge of exciting developments in the transport industry: self-driving cars, smart roads, immersive in-car entertainment, improvements to safety and reductions to environmental impact. 5G is the technology driving many of these changes.

5G is particularly important for autonomous vehicles, which need to process and transmit large quantities of data, and to be able to communicate with each other in real time.

There are some interesting ways 5G-enabled autonomous vehicles might change our roads. For example, you may begin to see vehicles travelling unusually close together.

Many of the road rules that currently exist are based on the assumption that a human will be driving. For example, in good conditions, you need to leave a distance of at least two seconds between your car and the car in front, in case the car ahead of you suddenly stops. As a human driver, you need time to notice that the car ahead of you is stopping, time to react to the realisation by braking yourself, and then time for the brakes to stop your car.

If an autonomous vehicle can connect to the one in front through 5G, however, it doesn’t need time to notice the vehicle ahead is braking, or to make the decision to brake itself. 5G’s low latency means that information can be sent by one vehicle and received by others in almost the same instant. This lets two or more connected vehicles accelerate or brake simultaneously, with the one in front setting the pace.

In other words, with 5G communication, autonomous vehicles can safely take actions that would be risky or impossible for a human driver, freeing up space on the road.

There are other ways 5G can benefit drivers. For example, road sensors or cameras could feed information about traffic to 5G-enabled traffic lights. If the traffic lights have real-time information on actual traffic, they can adjust their timings to be as efficient as possible, rather than changing at pre-programmed times.

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University has experimented with smart traffic signals and discovered that they could lead to substantial improvements for both drivers and the environment, reducing the time spent waiting by 40% and projected emissions by 21%. This experiment is from 2012 and therefore predates 5G, but it helps to illustrate how communications technology can be used to transform roads in ways that benefit everyone.

Medical uses of 5G technology

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have discovered the frustrations of a slow internet connection when trying to work remotely, and particularly when making video calls. For remote medical consultations, it’s particularly important to have a connection that can transmit a lot of data very quickly. After all, it’s hard to diagnose a problem through a low-definition video call; the video needs to be high-quality so the consultant can see any visible symptoms clearly.

In situations like this, 5G’s large capacity for data transmission can be very valuable. If it’s feasible to have checkups over a video call, this could free up time for overstretched GPs, improve the health of people who don’t live near a surgery and reduce the time vulnerable patients spend in waiting rooms, where they might be exposed to airborne illness.

O2 has a video explaining how 5G can be used in ‘smart ambulances’, helping paramedics in the ambulance communicate with medical specialists elsewhere. This reduces strain on hospitals, as in some cases the patient can be treated in the ambulance, and it enables a faster response to medical emergencies, such as strokes. Through projects like this, 5G can be used to save lives.

5G in other industries

We’ve only touched on a few examples, to give a general overview of what 5G can be used for, but there are many areas where 5G can offer practical improvements.

For example, we talked recently about drone applications. Many of these – filming, aerial photography, mapping, gathering environmental information etc. – involve the transfer of a lot of data, which 5G can facilitate. 5G could also help autonomous delivery drones to communicate, avoid obstructing each other and navigate to their destination.

If you’re interested in learning more about the potential of 5G, O2’s Solutions Navigator offers a wide variety of situations where 5G might be useful.

In its 2021 report ‘The Impact of 5G on the European Economy’, Accenture predicts huge economic benefits from 5G’s potential to create new industries, improve productivity and enhance products and services: ‘Between 2021 and 2025, 5G will drive up to €2.0 trillion in total new sales across all major industries in the European economy. Over this time period, 5G will create or transform up to 20 million jobs and drive up to €1.0 trillion to GDP.’

As a step forward in mobile technology, 4G opened up the potential for online activities that often needed a faster connection than 3G: video streaming, for example, or playing games. 5G’s potential is very different. Its relatively huge speeds give it many real-world applications, making it a valuable tool for multiple industries. 4G’s domain is the internet, but 5G’s domain is the world.

We’ve reached the present, but there’s more to come in this series of articles on connectivity. In the near future, we’ll be talking about the possibilities of 6G, and about satellite technology.

Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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