5G: what next?

By Patrick Hirscher, Zyxel’s EMEA LTE/5G Market Development Manager

In the realm of popular opinion, 5G had a rough start to life. As with many new technologies, claims of future potential were met with initial scepticism and ill-informed fear-mongering. But the potential of the technology is now coming to light as it turns into real-world applications, and wariness is waning as major brands champion its power.


In short, 5G is no longer just a future technology, it’s a technology for now. But what comes next in the technology’s life cycle, and how can businesses and networks alike help push the transition from 4G to 5G to access its full transformative potential?


The 5G upgrade


The possibilities are vast; in business, industry, and everyday society, 5G has the potential to be a truly game-changing technology. In the mobile era, 4G has been king, but we are now talking about a near-exponential upgrade in performance: 5G network speeds are roughly 100 times faster, and the number of devices supported per square kilometre jumps from 4,000 to around one million.


Clearly, from a general consumer’s point of view, 5G can bring considerable benefits to our modern data-hungry lifestyles, alleviating the pressure on household bandwidths and facilitating our ever-increasing network consumption. However, the real benefits of 5G can be found in business and industry and are only just starting to be realised. With increased adoption will come ever increasing benefits across the economy.


The adoption cycle


As with any new technology, initial benefits can be relatively modest and rely on a more widespread and connected approach before the theoretical possibilities championed by manufacturers begin to take shape. As we reach that inflection point with 5G, we are beginning to see these theoretical benefits become actualised, which in turn is prompting further uptake and greater innovation.


The good news is that there are clear signs of 5G adoption picking up pace across Europe. In the UK, for example, the government has announced a £28.3 million investment into “innovative new uses of 5G”, with supply chain logistics, tourism and TV production among the sectors being targeted. The plan will also see a major focus on the automotive industry, with driverless taxis and smart parking management implemented as part of a trial at the MK Stadium in Milton Keynes.


Driven forwards by 5G


The automotive industry will benefit greatly from widespread 5G adoption, well before we reach a world where autonomous vehicles are commonplace. The modern vehicle is already a connected device, with location services, maintenance tracking and performance management among other services built in and linked up. As 4G is upgraded to 5G, the vehicles on the road become more reliable, smarter and better connected.


Real-time tracking devices - the driving equivalent of a little black box - can detect if a vehicle has had an accident, report it, and alert the driver of repair needs or communicate any defects directly to the manufacturer. In fleet management, this ability to track and monitor thousands of vehicles accurately in real-time is crucial.


Industry 4.0


5G has also started delivering huge benefits for industry, with its faster speeds, lower latency and greater bandwidth projected to generate an extra £5.2 billion for the manufacturing sector alone. The automated factory line requires precision timing and seamless connectivity, with even a small lag in connection causing a huge potential problem. However, with 5G’s implementation, the inflexible, analogue production line can become a thing of the past.


As well as the smart factory automation that will improve production lines, 5G is allowing manufacturers to connect their indoor networks with their warehouses and outdoor spaces. This provides an invaluable link between production, fulfilment and delivery logistics and enables complete synchronisation of operations.


In addition, factories typically struggle with the differing and competing needs of their office and factory networks, with each using their own wired and wireless WLANs. 5G’s network slicing solves these issues, creating a holistic network that is safer, more productive, efficient and sustainable, while requiring less maintenance downtime.


The importance of integration


As with other networking products, there is a huge range of solutions available for various needs, from outdoor entertainment venues or vast factory complexes, to individual office buildings or even single devices. Furthermore, these 5G products can now even be located, set up and managed centrally through cloud-based monitoring platforms, which add even more layers of security and improve ease of integration, which is especially important for business and industry use cases.


The boom in remote work has caused a rapid proliferation of business networking needs; now the office is everywhere, and workers need business-level connectivity wherever they are. 5G solutions managed centrally in the cloud allow decision-makers and IT teams to provide cutting-edge network connectivity across vast sites, such as factory complexes, and across geographically distributed devices, whether catering to work-at-home employees or a fleet of connected trucks. 5G technology might be already here, but the benefits it can create are only just beginning to appear.


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