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5G trends driving consumer adoption

From autonomous driving to the factory floor and sports broadcasts, early adopters are showing how 5G can be used

Earlier this year, research carried out by Ericsson revealed that less than a fifth of Irish people with a 5G-enabled smartphone had signed up to a plan which gave them access to 5G service. That rather apathetic response is attributed to a lack of consumer awareness of the capabilities of, and use cases for, 5G service.

Despite a slow rollout, the reality of 5G is catching up to its original promise, experts say. 

“It will be a lot like 3G,” says Declan Gaffney, Radio Access Network director with Three Ireland. “The network operators didn’t know what it would be used for at first and then the smartphone came along. You have to build the network first and then see what it’s used for.”

South Korea is already pointing the way in that regard, however, and service providers there have been very successful at driving consumer adoption. According to Ericsson ConsumerLab, the main reason they’ve focused on is explaining the difference between 4G and 5G services. Key to that has been additional service offerings such as 5G apps, including augmented reality (AR) 3D online shopping, virtual reality (VR) cloud-gaming and other AR and VR apps.


Autonomous driving

The technology already exists to build fully autonomous cars. Machine vision, artificial intelligence, sensor technology and advanced robotics can be combined to create a driverless car capable of performing better than a human operated vehicle. However, putting all that computing power on board would use up all the available battery life before the car has even managed to drive a kilometre of so.

The answer is to access those services remotely but that creates another problem. It’s not really feasible to have a car driving at 100kph waiting for a distant computer to tell it when to apply the brakes when an obstacle appears. Any delay could be fatal.

The answer is 5G with its low latency. Latency is the amount of time it takes to send information from one point to another. Latency on current 4G networks is about 20 milliseconds and drops to between one and five milliseconds on 5G networks.

But the real comparison is with human reaction time which is about 200 milliseconds. 5G is actually more than 40 times faster and is already being used in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in some cars.

5G also comes into its own for remote control. Las Vegas-based Halo is offering a driverless taxi service with the cars remotely controlled by “drivers” in a central office. It runs on T-Mobile’s 5G network and advanced AI capabilities help the cars learn as they are driven. This hybrid model – where there is a human in the background to control the driverless car – is seen by many in the industry as a critically important stepping stone to enabling the autonomous car revolution.

Factories of the future

The fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 as it has become known, is already being superseded by Factory 5.0 which makes the most of both human and technological resources. However, both are critically dependent on technologies which automate entire production processes with minimal human intervention.

That’s tens of thousands of sensors and other devices to be connected to each other as well as to a centralised control platform. The kind of real time connectivity required across that number of devices is really only made possible with 5G.

In Ireland, a strategic partnership between Three, Ericsson and Glanbia will see the dairy giant increase manufacturing efficiency through the installation of an indoor 5G network at the company’s largest Irish plant at Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny.

Three is working with Ericsson and Glanbia on the rollout to demonstrate how 5G can be utilised in manufacturing environments, developing further use cases which in time can be applied across a range of sectors. The 5G network solution aims to enable faster and more accurate maintenance tasks on the plant floor and will assist in problem solving, providing for richer analysis of plant processes and reducing manual administration.

A whole new world

In 2018, a sporting first occurred when Fox Sports used 5G to connect cameras to the production centre for its coverage of the US Open golf championship. Instead of thousands of metres of heavy, expensive and intrusive cabling being laid around the vast expanse of the Shinnecock Hills golf course, ultra high definition 4K TV pictures were transmitted entirely wirelessly.

5G technology makes sports and other outside broadcasts cheaper and more accessible.

“What we are seeing in some Asian countries is a lot more cameras in sports stadiums,” says Fergal McCann, director of mobile networks with Eir. “Think about a rugby match where you need a lot of camera angles to decide if the ball has been grounded for a try. More cameras offer a much better view of what’s going on. We have streamed a number of live sporting and entertainment events – including GAA and rugby matches – to demonstrate the ability of 5G instead of using expensive satellites and trucks and so on.

“It’s much cheaper and opens up the possibility of increased coverage of local sporting events around the country.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times