The push for 5G is not a new phenomenon – however the allure of 5G’s enhanced capabilities is accompanied by the enormous capital outlays and operational requirements. A 2017 report by DBS estimated that to enhance current telecommunication infrastructure to achieve 5G implementation, investment by the telcos will need to be 250% of 4G over an extended period of 5 years.
According to the study, it is therefore imperative for telcos to manage the 5G capex spend by focusing on providing digital services, with more emphasis on enterprise digital solutions which represent 7x the market size of providing incremental connectivity services.
Of all the use cases, we have narrowed it down to 5 applications that are enabled by 5G in a way that traditional cellular technologies are unable to.
Connected Healthcare/ Telemedicine
5G can allow first responders to increase survivor rates by providing seamless connectivity on the go for ambulance services to communicate with the hospital staff. In Malaysia, Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd (Digi) announced its partnership with Hospital Sultanah Maliha in Langkawi and Collaborative Research In Engineering, Science & Technology (CREST) to pilot Malaysia’s first 5G connected ambulance to enable real-time medical data transfers between paramedics and the hospital. The continuous streaming of patient data from when the paramedics arrive on scene, right up to delivering the patient at the hospital will create improved patient care experiences and better life-enhancing outcomes for patients, the Telco said.
In other parts of the world, 5G remote surgeries have been done in China and India with lag time of 0.1 second. With 5G enabled connected healthcare, we are able to provide access to hospitals and doctors even when travelling to seek medical advice is difficult – something that could be useful in the current fight against the 2019-nCoV outbreak.
However, to apply 5G pervasively for connected healthcare applications, the 5G network must extend beyond the main city centre and reach the outlying areas where this would have the most impact.
Smart Grid Automation
For the energy and utility sector, the increased pressure on the grid in fast growing urban centres in Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia has driven the integration of distributed energy resources from independent power producers into the central grid. With 5G, the high variability of these micro grids can be managed in real-time with automation of the feeder line systems to avoid overload and maintain system reliability.
The stringent requirements for communication latency and network reliability can only be met with wired PLC communication currently but 5G will allow utility companies to upgrade their grids and increasingly automate operations with new sensors and control system while providing deployment flexibility, lower cost and a similar performance to the incumbent wired communication network.
In Finland, Nokia and ABB were able to successfully demonstrate 5G based ultra-reliable low latency communication (URLLC) for smart electricity grids and we foresee such projects will continue to grow in Southeast Asia.
However, utilities often face strict price controls and are held to high quality standards. As such, they will be unable to pass on any 5G implementation cost and any service lapse they may encounter at the initial project phase will also incur strict fines. It will therefore be important for the utility companies to work closely with their partners and adopt a risk sharing model so as to deliver the intended results for 5G smart grid implementation.
To have fully autonomous vehicles on the roads as the primary mode of transport is still a distance away and AVs will require 5G to bring about widespread adoption. After all, self driving vehicles will become movable computing platform, transmitting enormous volumes of data (estimated at 4TB every 90 minutes) to be uploaded to a cloud platform, analysed and transmitted back as driving instructions. This chain of communication will need to happen within milliseconds that only 5G can fully enable. As a guide, at 4G’s current latency of 50ms, a car travelling at 100km/h will continue to move 1.4m from the time it identifies an obstacle to when it executes the braking command. 5G with its latency of 1ms, the car will only move forward 2.8cm.
5G will also serve as the foundation for C-V2X, a P2P wireless protocol that will enable better information exchanges between different objects in the environment such as other AVs, smart lamp posts, tolls booths, smart traffic lights and other roadside infrastructure – building blocks of an autonomous Intelligent Transportation System.
It will take some time for consumers to get used to not being behind the wheel and ceding control of the vehicle though. However, with more car manufacturers integrating C-V2X modules into their cars and the major car manufacturers (Audi, Honda, BMW, Daimler, Nissan. Hyundai and Volvo) committed to growing the technology through the 5G Automotive Association, fully autonomous driving may come sooner than we think. In Singapore, self driving buses have already been implemented in NTU and Sentosa.
On top of the C-V2X network of autonomous vehicles managing some of the urban traffic problems like congestion and reliable public transportation, 5G can also allow CCTV systems to streamline more data for real time monitoring.
Surveillance and video analytics will likely be one of the top use cases of 5G will as it will provide the performance boost required for sophisticated video content analytics in real time and the deployment of large number of cameras, allowing cities to better monitor public safety. Several implementations are already in place including the 5G video surveillance set up by Samsung and KDDI at Haneda Airport International, Tokyo, Japan.
The move towards more pervasive public surveillance will highlight privacy concerns and it will be important to get the public’s buy in for the use of such technology in monitoring the daily safety of the country and its citizens.
IoT Applications in Drones
There is much written on the benefits of 5G in driving Industrial IoT and smart factories with robots and humans working alongside each other, however, I feel that an area 5G can accelerate tremendously is the use of drones in logistics and service delivery. Many companies are already using drones for equipment inspection and logistics and retail companies like Amazon have successfully demonstrated drones for delivery of goods. 5G will increase the range and reliability of these drone applications and with drone technology on the uptrend (Drones today are limited to line of sight and distance of the controller but Amazon unveiled an AI powered new drone last year), the potential for drone applications with 5G is immense.
Any drone technology will no doubt face regulatory and legal hurdles though and there is fear that even if regulators come up with a plan to manage these new applications, criminals may misuse the drones for spying and trafficking. The threat of a cybersecurity breach is also very real.
As we look into building the enterprise digitalisation ecosystems in Southeast Asia, we will be diving deeper into how companies are delivering on the ROI of enterprise technology investments this year. For 5G and its huge price tag, it is even more important that the telcos, government and enterprises can work together to realise business use cases for the technology.
Do share your thoughts on the most important business use case of 5G for your company and we will be discussing this topic in more detail at our Asia IoT Business Platform enterprise series this year.