The evolution of personal communication has fundamentally altered the everyday lives of most people on our planet. Armed with a smartphone connected to a seemingly infinite ocean of information, entertainment and applications, many of us cannot remember a time when we weren’t dependent on our mobile devices and networks for most of our daily needs.
In fact, the latest smartphone models can help us read this article while downloading a file, chat with a colleague on Skype, check our email and use an app to make dinner reservations — and even prepare driving directions to the restaurant.
But they would be useless and pretty dumb without the true brain, which resides deep in the network of the carriers. The network and the data centers that contain it are the true brain of any complex operation.
Not long ago, most carriers only provided voice and text services using 2G networks. But the ability to be in communication anytime, anywhere and with almost anyone transformed our society in ways we’re seeing all around us today.
How machines share data is very different from how they communicate with humans, or how humans communicate with machines or one another.
Since then, we have moved through 3G and now 4G networks, with 5G on the horizon. 3G and 4G networks allowed us, as a society, to engage with the new world of digital information and entertainment on our own terms.
Now with the leap to 5G networks, we can start to completely reshape entire industries, and rethink how we run our cities and manage critical national infrastructures. 5G will be a far more capable network than its predecessors; it will deliver speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps), which is 40 times faster than the current maximum speeds achievable on 4G.
This sounds like futuristic wishful thinking, but, of course, so too did the idea of carrying around a mini supercomputer in your pocket. In fact, some companies and charitable organizations are already providing hints of what is possible.
Today, you access data on-demand as you move from point A to point B. For example, think about making a cross-country trip. You use your phone to check your flight status, download your boarding pass and confirm your hotel booking.
When you land, you use your phone to check your emails, send a quick text message home to let the family know you’ve arrived safely and summon a car from a mobile application to take you to a hotel you booked on your mobile phone via a different application.
Today, when you need data service, you use your device to pull it down from the cloud via a high-speed network.
Many of us cannot remember a time when we weren’t dependent on our mobile devices and networks for most of our daily needs.
5G will turn this one-way interaction we have today with data into something new. Imagine a new network that will enable machines to communicate instantly without any human intervention, and to do things on our behalf and for our benefit without our active engagement.
The result will be a further transformation of how we live our lives, and a steep increase in machine-to-machine (M2M) communications to enable fuller, richer and more convenient lifestyles. This is the promise of 5G as it enables the Internet of Things (IoT).
You’ve likely read reports of the ongoing development of self-driving cars, and the promise that within the next 15-20 years, we can comfortably and safely read a newspaper during a long journey. Our cars will download real-time traffic information and use it to avoid congestion and accidents, getting us safely and quickly where we need to go.
The benefits extend far beyond convenience and avoiding traffic jams. The opportunity to not just reduce, but eliminate, car accidents will translate to saving more than one million lives every year in the U.S. alone. This means saving $300 billion in economic costs due to car crashes, and reducing annual CO2 emissions by as much as 300 million tons, just in U.S.
Mobile networks, in general, and 5G, in particular, will impact all industries. Through judicious use, we will be able to solve some complex problems of our time.
Consider, for instance, the problem the U.S. faces with water conservation. As California suffers through one of the most severe droughts on record, the issue of water conservation is generating national headlines.
Statistics show that 20 percent of our water supply is lost every single day because of leaks in the pipes that make up the national infrastructure. That equates to 71 billion gallons lost every day, or the daily water usage in California, Texas and Ohio — combined.
Monitoring every pipe in real time would require the ability to gather and analyze huge volumes of data at speeds that are just not possible today. 5G will enable utility providers to create a network that can sense, process and transmit the exact location and severity of a leak and alert proper resources in real time without the need for humans to laboriously collect and analyze data.
5G will also impact individual lives, and will enable us to be more human. The Daniel Project is a remarkable example of how we will be able to help people in need anywhere in the world that’s connected by high-speed data networks.
Created by Not Impossible, a California-based media and technology company, The Daniel Project uses 3D printing to create hands and arms for amputees in the war-torn South Sudan region.
In November 2013, CEO and founder Mick Ebeling set up the world’s first 3D-printing prosthetic lab and training facility. Just a few weeks later, the facility printed a prosthetic hand that allowed a teenager to feed himself for the first time in two years.
The team cannot staff the facility year-round, so they taught locals how to print and assemble the 3D prostheses. Today, by sharing data with collaborators in the U.S., the local trainees can produce 5-6 new arms a month. A 5G network will facilitate such a high level of collaboration that the number could swell to 5-6 new arms, or many more, every day.
So, if 5G will have all these benefits for us, what then are the next steps to rolling out these networks and actually realizing this vision?
There are critical security issues that technology developers must address.
There are several technical hurdles to overcome, and the biggest is for the industry and the world’s governments to work together to develop a standard for 5G.
Setting a standard will allow multiple devices, multiple networks and multiple users (humans/machines/drones/robots/phones/wearables) to access the network and its data in a consistent way, eliminating the need for humans to intervene. Additionally, allocation of more radio spectrum is vital to meet increased demand for capacity and data rates beyond 2020.
Further, there are critical security issues that technology developers must address. Much of the growth in the IoT trend will be based on M2M communication. How machines share data is very different from how they communicate with humans, or how humans communicate with machines or one another.
Traditional security solutions used to protect our computers and phones against cyberattacks will not work on connected printers, cars or smart-city infrastructure systems. Device and equipment manufacturers will play a critical role in enabling 5G connectivity by embedding security during the product design and development cycle.
By 2030, 5G will transform and create many uses that we cannot even think of yet. We will live in a world that will have 10-100 times more Internet-connected devices than there are humans. Hundreds of billions of machines will be sensing, processing and transmitting data without direct human control and intervention.
5G performance targets stretch far beyond speed and capacity to lower costs for connected sensors, low energy, perceptibly zero latency and more. 5G will enable extremely diverse use cases of the IoT, and it will be the first mobile generation designed from the beginning to address high-speed broadband, critical machine type and M2M-type communication in one system of systems.
Featured Image: Bryce Durbin