The impact of 5G on connectivity

by Louis Wedgbury on Wednesday 3 May 2017

Connectivity is a recurring theme in our technological evolution, as the desire for engagement is intrinsic to our nature. The transmission of messages and communication networks have developed from telephone, the Internet, mobile phones and even to elaborate digital connections via social. These networks have fundamentally shifted the way we communicate and have changed our behaviour. We are now able to consume content from anywhere in the world, speak to whomever we like, whenever we like, and expand our personal networks beyond our native borders. Connectivity is further elaborated as we now look to build and improve communications lines between machines, known as M2M (machine to machine), or its more consumer facing arm, IoT (internet of things).


M2M  is not a new thing, but in the last year there has been some important developments which could help to unlock its true potential. For M2M to be successful, like many major technological advancements, there needs to be successful fusion of software, hardware and infrastructure. For example, imagine the existence of Snapchat (software) without wireless internet (infrastructure), or your phones (hardware). Without each of these factors there would be no way for the platform to exist. There needs to be this harmony between software, hardware and infrastructure to provide the tools to change human behaviours at scale. 


Although developments in software and hardware are needed, currently a major roadblock with M2M is that there isn’t the sufficient infrastructure support all its possibilities. Yes, M2M is already working on a small scale providing homes, cities and industries with the ability for machines to send and receive data, but there are limits to performance which are stifling its potential. 


The introduction of 5G (circa 2020) will increase this potential by reducing the various pain points. Although the exact capabilities of 5G are still to be confirmed the GSMA have surmised that it will increase connection speeds, support up to 100x more connected devices, 100% coverage, reduced latency and minimise battery usage. In simple terms, for IoT this would mean much more data can be passed between machines, at a quicker speed, to more devices, and at a smaller cost to battery life.  This could impact our world in variety of ways;

 

•        Exponential growth in the testing and learning capacities of AI as data is able to be passed more freely between devices.    

•        More devices connected simultaneously would dramatically simplify, and drive efficiencies for urban planning e.g. each valve within a sewage system could be independently operated but centrally connected. This would allow for leaks and system strains to be easily identified.      

•        100% coverage would connect remote communities, or allow driverless cars to become fully autonomous by using real-time data to navigate no matter the location.     

•        Reduced latency would allow time-sensitive tasks such as remote surgery to be performed with 100% confidence. 

•        Minimal drain on battery life would increase the number of connected devices able to be controlled from a single device.

 

If M2M is able to be turbo charged by 5G then in the next 5 -10 years we could be living in a more organised and efficient world. We will have to be patient to find out the full impact M2M will have on the world around us, and, along with the infrastructure, we will need the right software and hardware to support its development. However, if this happens, we will once again see a fundamental shift in the way we interact with the world around us.