What 5G Really Means For Your Business

Why 5G Is So Much More Than Just Another Mobile Network Upgrade

Dritan Kaleshi wrote for D/SRUPTION ahead of Digital Catapult’s upcoming discussion at Disruption Summit on September 10th where they are joined by Vodafone and Smartify in discussing the 5G future

The connectivity revolution is well under way – 5G is finally here. Two of the UK’s mobile operators have already launched their consumer 5G service offerings and, by the end of the year, the four biggest UK mobile operators will have too. Yet this is only the start of the deployment. Additional 5G spectrum will be made available (via auction) by spring 2020, with most of the UK’s population covered by 2027. Although widespread consumer adoption may take time, there’s no doubt that 5G will be a game-changer where it is adopted by UK businesses and organisations. That’s why right now is the perfect time to innovate with 5G and discover its benefits, since understanding where 5G-enabled solutions can add value, and where they won’t, will be key to success.

What will 5G offer?

The numbers say it all… Compared to 4G, 5G will eventually be able to handle 1,000 times more data, cope with up to 100 times more devices per square kilometre, run at data speeds up to 100 times faster and respond at least five times more quickly.

But numbers alone don’t tell the full story, since 5G is more than just faster connectivity. It will also bring us all closer to a very flexible network capable of offering enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communications (mMTC) and ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC). 

  • Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB)
    This will be the first deployment of 5G technology as it addresses the continuing rise in demand for data. This will be good news for those streaming ultra-high definition (UHD) video, applying intelligent analytics to large volumes of data using AI and machine learning, and anyone deploying assisted operations using augmented or virtual reality. In an environment like a stadium or museum, where hundreds of individuals will be looking something up online at the same time, 5G will allow easier access via the same network to the same content at the same time. 
  • Massive machine-type communications (mMTC)
    Using the sub-1 GHz spectrum to deliver large-scale machine-to- machine (M2M) communication, 5G means smooth operation of much bigger IoT deployments. Multiple assets connected over multiple sites using sensor technology will be able to communicate in real time much more easily and faster, transforming industrial environments. Changes in core radio technology will allow 5G to support larger number of devices operating concurrently, scaling up coverage of demand from a warehouse to a whole smart city. 
  • Ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC)
    Low latency, a key differentiator of 5G, opens up possibilities such as digital twins (an accurate solution for conducting remote maintenance and monitoring, especially in hazardous or inaccessible locations), collaborative robots (cobots) and connected autonomous vehicles. Getting close to one millisecond latency and very high bandwidth makes it possible to control machines in real time, improving accuracy, reducing risk and, potentially, reducing costs.

Taking control

Another crucial change heralded by 5G will be the way in which networks are managed. Organisations will be able to simultaneously manage different types of access networks (wired, wireless, optical, copper), technologies (fieldbus, ethernet, wireless), protocols and equipment. This will allow them to create a ‘network of networks’. Even better, private networks can be created to cover a specific area, wherever they make sense.  5G offers the ability for an organisation to have its own dedicated ‘slice’ of a network, putting it in much greater control of its own connectivity, security and quality of service.

5G will enable organisations to have secure, reliable, real time ‘edge cloud’ capabilities. This means that data storage and processing capability can be much closer to the point where they is needed, which reduces reduces latency and increases speed. In applications such as robotics, this can eliminate the need for on-board intelligence, allowing cheaper, smaller, dumber robots to be deployed that are controlled in real time by intelligent processing in the edge cloud.

Creating meaningful change

The key to meaningful adoption of technology, rather than its adoption for its own sake, is to apply it to aspects of your organisation that matter to you.

Here are just a few examples of how 5G can improve the way businesses operate:

  • Making infrastructure easier to manage and more efficient
  • Improving predictive maintenance of assets
  • Harnessing augmented reality to improve quality control
  • Detecting hazards and remote monitoring and maintenance of manufacturing equipment
  • In situ training using immersiveVR and AR environments
  • Monitoring and managing goods across the supply chain

The impact of 5G won’t be just felt in manufacturing and logistics. 5G has the capability to deliver and enhance cultural and tourism experiences, from better shared experiences across different locations to supporting large-scale public events – even making them safer and better managed.

This potential is being explored, tested and showcased through the £5m 5G Smart Tourism project, led by the West of England Combined Authority and funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. Bringing together 19 diverse organisations – including Digital Catapult, King’s College London, Aardman and Bristol City Council – the project is showing how 5G will change the ways in which the cultural, heritage and tourism sectors can create and manage interactive and immersive experiences using virtual and augmented reality through real life examples. 

Making your organisation 5G ready

Although 5G technology is complex, it will enable significant benefits when it is adopted meaningfully and purposefully. While widespread consumer take-up of 5G is bound to take some time, commercial and industrial deployments can be much faster. It’s therefore never too early for large and small organisations to start exploring how 5G might work for them and how they can overcome the barriers to its adoption.

Connectivity as a strategic priority – Alongside business case development, connectivity should be an integral part of R&D planning as it makes strategies and roadmaps towards digital deployments more realistic.

Early experimentation in controlled environments is a safe way to gain insights into 5G’s possibilities for business and may prove the cost benefits of any ‘invest-to-save’ 5G scenarios. Such experiments can also help to upskill employees without affecting day-to-day systems. 

Engage with 5G value chains

Innovation in 5G depends on access to infrastructure and expertise. Digital Catapult is the leading technology innovation centre for the adoption of advanced digital technology. One of the key partners in the 5G Smart Tourism project and supporting the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s 5G testbeds and trials programme, Digital Catapult is removing barriers to market and supporting the growth of 5G in the UK, operating commercially accessible 5G testbeds in London and Brighton. Uniquely, these testbeds are open to the startup community and large corporate users who are looking to understand, experiment and develop their use of 5G technology.

Your 5G ecosystem:

  • Systems integrators act as valuable mediators if there are cultural barriers to overcome
  • Third parties for education, skills, training and advice
  • Mobile network operators working directly or through systems integrators to demonstrate interest and drive the deployment of connectivity solutions  
  • UK regulator Ofcom, which is consulting around access to shared spectrums. Private network deployment will require access to the spectrum
  • Network equipment vendors, to ensure solutions meet sectoral needs
  • Key industry bodies, to take an active role in defining the new standards for 5G and ensure that sector needs are met, including compatibility and interoperability

Fostering an innovation culture 

Encouraging and facilitating discussion around general innovation, as well as 5G, is a positive investment in your business. Becoming more innovative is similar to getting fit: not a one-off effort but a task that needs to be stuck to. Here are Digital Catapult’s top tips to make organisations innovation fit. 

  1. Aim to be an innovation leader and an innovation manager: outline a vision, then give staff responsibility and hold them accountable for ideas and projects.
  2. Set up communication channels: these will allow for sharing of ideas and initiatives across the company. Successful innovation needs both individual dedication and collaboration. 
  3. Give headspace to innovate: give everyone time to think outside the box. Some companies give staff a certain percentage of time to develop side projects that aren’t driven or approved by management, some run an annual hack week, while others acknowledge and celebrate success, and embrace failure. 
  4. Plan for both ideation and execution: make sure there are people who can see projects through. 
  5. Get comfortable with ambiguity and change: innovation is not a linear journey. The mechanisms and tools used to allow for innovation will change over time (and sometimes very quickly), and so will the ideas experimented with. 

Now is the time to engage

5G is one of the biggest game-changers in technology. As one of the world’s most advanced economies, the UK is in a prime position to take advantage of the new capabilities it offers. To drive the development of digital technology solutions, UK organisations need to get involved – right now – and play an active role in the conversations and innovation that is already taking place. The future of our connectivity requirements is already being decided.

Digital Catapult is the UK’s leading agency for the early adoption of advanced digital technologies.

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