Arrival of 5G nicely timed to meet new challenges
The pandemic has underlined the need for speedy, reliable telecommunications
Ciara O’Reilly, Three Ireland’s head of business products, propositions and operations: ‘The experiences of this year have helped to us realise we can deal with change’
The arrival of 5G telecommunications is almost perfectly timed to suit the new demands of businesses and consumers adjusting to the new world of remote working.
“With the life challenges that came with Covid-19, people have shown enormous resilience in adapting to new situations,” says Three Ireland head of business products, propositions and operations Ciara O’Reilly.
“In a way, it has opened the door for us to think about new possibilities when it comes to technology too. The kind of digital transformation we only dreamed about 12 months ago has now become reality. And with Ireland’s largest 5G network now launched, we have an opportunity to make the most of this unexpected digital dividend.”
The mass adoption of home working during the early days of the health restrictions means there is a ready-made use case for the high capacity that the 5G network can offer, O’Reilly points out.
“The increase in speed with 5G is dramatic with up to 1 Gbps in parts of the network,” says O’Reilly. “In some cases, that’s five to 10 times faster than the current 4G network, and it means 5G can be a very realistic alternative to fixed-line broadband.”
That will have implications for people living in regional locations.
“In the past, the lack of available bandwidth was a barrier to working remotely, particularly outside large urban centres,” O’Reilly notes. “From day one, Three 5G is available in every county and we plan to add 500 more sites next year, building on the 350 that are online today. Our 5G network has 35 per cent population coverage, making it Ireland’s largest 5G network.”
5G can be a catalyst for significant changes in how businesses operate.
“It will enable new possibilities with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The 5G Stadium in São Paulo, Brazil, is a good example of a virtual experience that puts the audience in the middle of the orchestra pit during a concert. But we can also apply those qualities to some very relatable examples for business. With many people missing the in-store experience that comes from shopping in person, retailers could turn this situation to their advantage. Imagine offering 5G-powered virtual walk-throughs of their shops. There’s huge potential to deliver an immersive experience through a VR headset that comes close to replicating the feeling of being able to browse through a rack of clothes.”
The mining industry is trialling autonomous vehicles that are remotely controlled from a safe distance
It will require retailers to develop compelling content, however. “There are a few different ways of doing this,” O’Reilly adds. “One might be to have a relatively inexpensive drone camera that records footage of every part of the store. But another, more personal approach might be for a friendly shop assistant to walk through the store and record their journey on a 5G handset. Or, taking this idea further, a shop could brand itself to a specific audience by getting a social media influencer to do the virtual walk-through.”
Three is already looking at is own retail stores in this regard. “We are thinking about what’s possible with 5G, such as interactive screens and other interesting ways to engage our customers. There are lots of creative ways to build excitement around a new product or service.”
5G also has applications beyond consumer-facing businesses. “For example, the mining industry is trialling autonomous vehicles that are remotely controlled from a safe distance. By fitting the vehicles and the mineshaft with sensors, mining companies get a wealth of data about the status of the mine without needing to send people deep underground at significant risk. One site that’s already in place today is the Boliden Aitik mine in Northern Sweden. Some Irish mining companies are exploring similar options because of how connected automation over 5G helps them to reduce costs and improve safety.”
Other use cases that combine 5G with the internet of things (IoT) include smart factories that use automation effectively, or smart offices with features like digital wayfinding, asset location and room scheduling.
“These are just some of the possibilities that are closer now than ever before,” O’Reilly adds.
“The experiences of this year have helped to us realise we can deal with change when it’s not of our own making. It’s also opened our eyes to possibilities we didn’t see before. 5G’s arrival has put those possibilities right in front of us and puts the levers of change in our hands.”