Trends 2021 – 5G – enabling the IoT

Written by CMS
28th January 2021

Sitting in a niche covering fleet management, technology, risk management, workplace safety and insurance, CMS has some distinct perspectives on the trends coming to the fore this year and beyond.

In this post we look at 5G and how it will enable the Internet of Things

Image of busy street with 5G network

5G – what does it do?

Late 2019 – early 2020 saw the beginning of the roll out of the new 5G network, and later in 2020, the launching of 5G capable phones from Samsung and Apple.

The vast majority, if not the complete, population, or country coverage for 5G is expected by the middle of the decade – say 2025 or 2026.

Higher speeds

5G promises higher speeds and better connection to the internet, and by a significant factor over the existing 4G network.

But by how much?

Well, currently 4G gives the average mobile phone user a connection speed of between 20 and 30 Mbps (although it can be higher). This allows us to stream music on the go, surf the web, and navigate by Google maps when walking or driving.

5G promises a connection speed of over 10 Gbps. Or, between 100 and 1000 times faster than 4G.

As a simple illustration that means an 8GB HD film could be downloaded in less than ten seconds. While, on 4G it would take about ten minutes.

More network capacity

But 5G also comes with a huge increase in the capacity and capability for data transmission.

With figures of 10 Tbps (that’s equal to about 7 million images being upload to Instagram, per second!) and one million connections, per square kilometre, being quoted.

In simple practical terms, 5G means that buffering you get on your phone when you’re in a crowded bar, on a busy beach, or a packed shopping mall (OK – all pre-pandemic situations), will become a thing of the past.

No latency

The other promise of 5G is the effective elimination of connection latency. That is the time between doing something on your phone and the connection being made to allow it to happen.

The latency reduction is predicted to fall from the 50 milliseconds average of 4G to just one millisecond

Given the average human reaction speed is 250 milliseconds (about a quarter of a second), this reduction in latency means that there will be no discernable difference between the speed you react in a face to face situation and one that is communicated over the 5G network.

5G – what does it mean?

In simple terms 5G is better than 4G, as it is faster, and able to handle more connections. So, the way you use your phone now, will be better with 5G.

But that’s not what 5G really means.

The combination of increased speed, a bigger data pipe, removal of latency and a huge upscale in the number of connected devices, creates an environment that changes everything.

5G makes the concept of a fully connected world, via the Internet of Things (the IoT), not just a possibility, but a reality.

It will also not just improve what we currently do, it will enable the unknown.

A few examples to illustrate.

Changing the nature of the network

While 5G is a cellular based network, its capabilities will see it move beyond just cellphones.

There will be a merging of wifi and cellular connectivity, with 5G often displacing wifi, as it will be faster, more capable, and more stable.

Traditional wired and routed internet services will become redundant in a lot of business and consumer situations, when laptops, PC’s and other office devices move to a 5G connection.

Additionally, a whole host of devices can now be connected to the internet. In the house the heating system, and the security cameras, currently connected to your phone via wifi and 4G will be joined by everything from the fridge to the toaster, to the water meter, etc.

We’ll go from 20 to 30 connected devices in the house to 200 to 300, and more.

While this will make our domestic and office tasks easier or simpler, the real gains in the expanded connectivity will come outside the home or office.

V2V, V2I and V2X – traffic management and smart cities

Close to CMS’ operating area, with our risk management platform, Clara, built on data aggregation, what 5G will enable in road transport is revolutionary.

With everything from the latest Tesla car to the rider on a push bike connected to the network via 5G, the era of safe road transport, better traffic management and autonomous vehicles gets a big step closer.

Line of sight no longer becomes a limiting factor in traffic management – be that via the driver’s eyes, radar on the vehicle, or CCTV on busy traffic junctions, as all the traffic, the surrounding infrastructure, and even the pedestrians, in an area will all be connected to, and communicating with, each other.

Telling one another where they are, where they are going, what speed, etc.

Add this information into a traffic management system using edge computing and AI capabilities, and the traffic management infrastructure – both physical such as traffic lights, and software based such as routing apps – will work the maths to keep traffic flowing, prevent accidents, and get people to their destinations on time.

Ultimately, if this can all be done safely, with no delay in reaction, no limit to the number of connections, and a guarantee of reliability and stability, why will we need to drive ourselves?

Industry 4.0 – Smarter factories

The industrial Internet of Things, the digital industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 has been happening for the last decade.

Manufacturing and distribution centres have been realising the value of monitoring and measuring everything from conveyor belt speeds, to supply levels, to the location of items in the yard, through digital technology. Bringing to life the old management adage “If you can measure, then you can manage”

5G will accelerate this process, as smaller, easier to install, sensors, with less power demands (10 year life batteries are not uncommon), are deployed and can all be connected to the management systems via the 5G network.

Data points will move from the tens, to the hundreds, and to the thousands, as everything in the manufacturing and distribution process can now be tracked, measured and thereby managed.

While this will help manage current models of manufacturing and distribution better, over time it will open up innovation and new thinking, which will in turn lead to new models and ways of doing things.

The Science fiction level

One of the oft talked about applications that 5G could make possible is straight out of science fiction. That of remote robotic surgery.

The idea that because of the elimination of the latency issue, a surgeon in London could operate on a patient in Glasgow, via 5G and the newest version of a DaVinci Robot, without any concerns about the network delaying the surgeons actions and reactions.

The positive or aspirational benefit of such a capability is that surgery and medicine could be deployed to remote areas of the world, which previously couldn’t access such support.

However, on a different side, roll out that capability over a global scale, and you could have a fundamental shift in the economics of medicine/healthcare.

For example, less expensive surgeons in India, could operate on patients in the USA. Either making medical costs cheaper in the USA, or giving bigger profits to the medical corporations.

That is 5G could shift world trade for highly skilled and professional roles, that currently need local fulfillment, in the same way as manufacturing shifted to lower cost bases in Eastern Europe in the 1990’s.

If so, the science fiction nature and marvel of what is happening would swiftly become secondary to the ramifications of what is being enabled economically, politically, and morally.

5G – an enabler, not the solution

While all this promises to change the world by making the IoT real, we have been here before with technology.

It takes time for what the technology enables to be fully realised and matured.

Just ask those who took hits when the dot.com bubble burst.

So, the new reality that 5G enables, won’t happen overnight. It will be journey of change over five plus years, as the network rolls out and developers and innovators start to realise what can be done.

There will no doubt be dead ends, back tracks, and new approaches taken, before we can step back and say “Wow, the world has changed”

That is, it’s not 5G that will change the world, but all the things it enables, both as hardware & software, and also as human innovation and thinking – be that governments, corporations or start up innovators – that will change the world.

So, what does CMS think?

For CMS, 5G with its increase in data feeds, and data deployment, offers a step change in what we do – data aggregation.

Our CEO, Charles Smith, has been involved in some of the thinking around smart cities. Using CMS’ insight and expertise in data to help build out the knowledge and understanding of those charged with blueprinting the path to smart cities.

With our current focus on telematics and other driver data, we can see how 5G will both expand those data sets and make the data richer.

However, as we concluded on the EV and home delivery Trends 2021 articles, we can also see that innovation and disruption will significantly change what we think the future will be, in five or ten years time, and what it turns out to be.

And with 5G that mismatch between what can currently be predicted and what will transpire, with its enablement to step beyond improvement of what we do now, to enabling the building of the unknown, is even more pronounced than in the other trends we are looking at.


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