The fifth generation of wireless technology—5G—represents the changing face of connectivity. Designed for maximum speed and capacity, 5G has the potential to vastly expand how data is moved and will enable a wide range of new applications and use cases that go far beyond the smartphone.
While broad 5G rollouts are expected by 2021, engineers are already hard at work on applications and devices that will make use of the benefits of 5G. From the evolution of the IoT to revolutionary advances in how AI is used in the real world, many of tomorrow’s most exciting technological advances will depend on 5G connectivity.
Harnessing the Power of IoT
When the term “Internet of Things” was coined in 1999, it was largely conceptual. Two decades later, everything from home thermostats to smart city sensors depend on IoT technology. Now, 5G and IoT stand ready to enable applications that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago.
5G’s promise of low latency and high network capacity helps to eliminate the biggest limitations to IoT expansion. Giving devices nearly real-time ability to sense and respond, 5G and IoT are a natural pairing that will impact nearly every industry and consumer.
Broadband-Like Mobile Service
Upgraded mobile service is among the most noticeable of the initial impacts of the 5G network rollout. All major US wireless carriers, as well as many smaller communications service providers, intend to deploy 5G mobile networks that will deliver broadband-like services, such as high-definition streaming video without dreaded buffering. With a vastly increased network capacity, 5G is also predicted to reduce slowdowns during usage spikes—for example, sports fans can still stream during the big game.
Connectivity for Edge Computing
With the move to cloud-native 5G networks, enterprises can take advantage of strategically distributed computational power, allowing more data to be processed and stored in the right place based on the needs of the application. Intelligent edge computing operates at the convergence of 5G’s ultra-low latency, IoT, and AI technologies. Devices and applications can tap into edge cloud computing resources without needing to access a centralized data center potentially thousands of miles away.
As 5G edge computing becomes more pervasive, industries will be able to dramatically scale up their use of data and act on insights faster—often instantly and autonomously.
Applying AI to an immense amount of data at scale will be accelerated with fast, efficient connectivity. For example, smart city AI could correlate traffic light data automatically and implement new patterns after an apartment complex nearby is opened. Smart security and machine vision can keep secure facilities safe with automatic recognition of potential security breaches or unauthorized visitors.
While 5G will help enable AI inference at the edge, it will also play a role in delivering data from devices to the central cloud to train or refine AI models. For example, real-world data about road conditions collected by connected vehicles can improve cloud-based mapping services.
Immersive Gaming and Virtual Reality
For gamers, 5G promises a more immersive future. High-definition live streaming will get a big boost from 5G speeds, and thanks to ultra-low latency, 5G gaming won’t be tied down to devices with high computing power. Processing, storage, and retrieval can be done in the cloud, while the game itself is displayed and controlled by a mobile device.
Low-latency 5G will drive major innovation in virtual reality (VR) applications, which depend on fast feedback and response times to provide a realistic experience. These applications are likely to explode in number and sophistication as 5G networks and devices become the new normal.
As 5G edge computing becomes more common, industries will be able to dramatically scale up their use of data and act on insights faster—often instantly and automatically.
Whether their goal is to increase revenue opportunities, reduce total cost of ownership (TCO), or improve customer experiences, today’s enterprises are expected to see major benefits from the 5G upgrade.
5G healthcare use cases will enable doctors and patients to stay more connected than ever. Wearable devices could alert healthcare providers when a patient is experiencing symptoms—like an internal defibrillator that automatically alerts a team of ER cardiologists to be ready for an incoming patient, with a complete record of data collected by the device.
For 5G retail applications, the customer experience will be everything. Stores of tomorrow may no longer look like today’s aisles of stocked shelves. Imagine a store that’s more like a showroom—one that lets you add items to a virtual cart rather than shopping with a physical one.
Stores may also use 5G to manage inventory and stocking in real time. Consumers could even see changes like cashierless stores that simply track what you put in your cart in lieu of the traditional checkout line.
Farms of the future will use more data and fewer chemicals. Taking data from sensors located directly in fields, farmers can identify with pinpoint precision which areas need water, have a disease, or require pest management.
As wearables become less expensive and 5G makes it easier to scale networks containing large numbers of IoT devices, health monitoring for livestock may also emerge. With more accurate health data, farmers can reduce the use of antibiotics without compromising the safety of the food supply.
Factory floors will be totally transformed by the convergence of 5G, AI, and IoT. Beyond predictive maintenance that helps control costs and minimize downtime, factories will also use 5G to control and analyze industrial processes with an unprecedented degree of precision.
With the connectivity boost provided by 5G, manufacturers can also change traditional quality assurance processes, streamlining them with sensor technology and AI.
In shipping and logistics, keeping track of inventory is expensive, slow, and difficult. 5G offers the potential for greater communication among vehicles, as well as between vehicles and infrastructure itself.
Fleet monitoring and navigation will become significantly easier at scale with 5G. Driver navigation could potentially be powered with an augmented reality system that identifies and flags potential hazards without diverting a driver’s attention away from the road.1
5G: The Next Chapter Begins
The future of 5G is still being written, and it may be as momentous for connectivity as the dawn of the internet. Perhaps the most exciting part of 5G use cases is that no one knows exactly what will come next.
Whatever the future holds, you can bet on one thing: 5G will do a lot more than give you a faster phone connection. It could change your life.