Which sectors will benefit the most from the realisation of 5G?

5G is the generation that is said to bring together the advancements from 2G, 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi, and in doing so, will support the exponential growth in mobile data demand and expectations.

A large proportion of this demand originates from the advancements in IoT and what ‘could be’ if the infrastructure and connectivity were in place to support it. 5G, with its reduced latency, has the potential to make some technology advancements that were previously unfathomable, a reality.

There has been shift in focus with 5G in comparison to previous roll outs, in that this generation is seen very much as the ‘system of systems’ – bringing together a range of technologies into a ‘network of networks’ and focusing on industry benefits, moving the focus away from the mobile device end user. Although, it goes without saying that the end user will ultimately benefit from cheaper goods through seamless manufacturing and quicker journeys through connected vehicles, for example.

So, with claims of enabling the full realisation of IoT and the industry’s interests at its forefront, we took a look at the top 5 sectors that are set to benefit from 5G.

1. Manufacturing

5G is set to enable large scale ‘machine to machine’ communications, allowing for a reduction in human error and an increase in automated processes. In fact, Ericsson have already widely published their implementation of 5G to improve the four stages of their manufacturing process; design, deployment, operations and maintenance.

They reveal how they are using augmented reality for effective troubleshooting; by allowing users to practice various solutions on augmented equipment before finding the most effective solution to implement, Ericsson and businesses alike can save considerable amounts of time, money and materials.

Ericsson are also using 5G to deliver real time communications to the operators of machinery, making the process faster and safer, whilst sensors can reveal exactly when and where a tool needs changing or updating.

With these functionalities being critical to Ericsson’s success when automated, it raises the question of whether they could rely on a main 5G network to keep their factories operating safely. Whilst network ‘slicing’ will facilitate the simultaneous delivery of services with guaranteed technical performance, tailored to the specific requirements of different sectors, it also opens up the opportunity for private 5G networks to serve new micro-markets such as specific industrial applications.

2. Agriculture

Agriculture has already seen a few unlikely innovations introduced with a view to streamline the farming process; a study from Lancaster University saw researches test the use of wireless collars on sheep to track movements[1], and Vodafone have published to use case ‘Moo Call’[2], a connected device that can accurately predict when a cow is most likely to give birth by measuring tail movement patterns. However, without sufficient and reliable connection, IoT use cases like these could struggle to become a widespread reality.

This is something the Government wants to address with their funded testbed, 5G RuralFirst; an initiative that aims to allow some of the most remote communities to be the first to benefit from 5G.

Leading on the project, Cisco, describes 5G RuralFirst’s main objectives:

“The project will aim to create a complete end-to-end rural 5G testbed system for trials of new wireless and networking technologies, spectrum sharing, new applications and services; stimulating new business models, all with a focus on testing and demonstrating innovative approaches for ensuring that 5G connectivity is accessible and affordable in hard-to-reach rural areas.”

“The project will look to support and inform the development of the UK’s 5G eco-system so that it is able to address the needs and aspirations of communities and businesses in rural locations in ways that 4G, 3G, and 2G have not been able to do.” [3]

By helping the agricultural industry to become a connected, advanced-tech one, 5G could pave the way for innovations such as autonomous vehicles, drone technology and real time data collection. This in turn could enable better management of both crops (for example being able to interpret and react quickly to soil sensors and weather conditions) and livestock (for example, managing their movements, health and milk yields).


3. Healthcare

Perhaps the most high-risk, yet set to benefit greatly from 5G, is the healthcare industry; with lives on the line, it arguably requires a sufficient and reliable connection more so than any other sector. In fact, one could argue that connectivity for healthcare needs to be synonymous with the availability of electricity.

If 5G could provide the high reliability and low latency services that it promises, innovations such as robotic aids during surgery to increase accuracy and ambulance drones to provide real-time incident coverage, could become a reality.

Patients that require regular monitoring could receive connected wearable devices that track vital statistics, saving on staff time and resources, with them only having to step in when a problem occurs.

Not only this, but virtual reality headsets could be used to make training healthcare professionals more realistic than ever before, and 3D printing could enable tools, equipment and even prosthetics to be produced quickly and cheaply.

However, there could be downfalls to this increase in IoT in the healthcare sector; aside from the danger of this technology not being sufficiently supported by reliable connectivity, the increased risk could lead to healthcare insurance premiums rising to cover this.

4. Transport

Perhaps the most widely reported to benefit from 5G is the transport sector. Advancements in this industry could not only make roads safer and more environmentally friendly, but in the industry-centric theme of this article, it is set to make businesses’ logistics, fleet management and stock control more efficient and cost effective.

Through both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connections, IoT innovations that will change the way we navigate road, rail and sea, could become a reality.

Using data such as live traffic updates and passenger numbers, connected bus stops could help users choose the quickest and most comfortable route to work. Whilst on the bus, a user could connect to the free Wi-Fi and start working or finish last night’s box set.

Alternatively, users could be taken to work by a driverless vehicle, constantly communicating with both infrastructure and other vehicles to take them safely to their destination via the quickest route.

When out and about, users might use connected glasses with built in navigation, using augmented reality to help them find their way on foot.

The possibilities for transport are endless, however, despite investment into this sector, including the Government’s testbed grant, AutoAir [1], it remains to be seen whether round trip times and latency will be reduced to a level that will enable these advancements to be rolled out. Delays or glitches could be catastrophic, destroying the transport 5G use case in one fell swoop.

5. Education

Aside from the industry specific training that could benefit from 5G, as already mentioned in this article, the everyday classroom could also witness a transformation, thanks to technology that would become increasingly affordable and accessible.

Virtual reality headsets could see students taking a trip to Antarctica to witness the effects of global warming, or a perhaps have a virtual tour of the human body, getting up close to vital organs.

As with many other sectors, the benefit of tailoring to individual needs could also be realised within the education sector. Connected devices could allow students to learn at their own pace and with content that is tailored to them; for example, tablets could display certain font and colours that are more readable for autistic students.

The arrival of 5G and IoT could also improve safety; students could be given wearable devices that would log them onto a register as soon as they enter the classroom, dramatically improving evacuation safety and security.

Collaboration is Key

Thanks to advancements in IoT, there are a huge number of benefits that could be realised by both industries and the end user, however these are highly reliant on 5G’s low latency connectivity becoming a proven and consistent reality.

It also relies upon a significant level of cross-industry collaboration. Education needs to work with healthcare to train professionals in new life saving technologies, and manufacturing needs to work with agriculture to develop the machinery needed for smart farming.

Spreading the cost for investment and making implementation processes more seamless, this collaborative approach could be beneficial to all industries.

Bringing these benefits to reality will also require substantial research and development to generate confidence, interest, demand and ultimately, profitability.

For some, the prospect of this 4th industrial revolution is exciting and full of opportunities, for others it raises questions of risk, job losses and reliability of the network to be able to utilise the technology in the way it is claimed to be capable of.

If 5G is able to deliver the level of service that is being talked about, industries and end users could be taking a step towards benefiting from a more digitally connected world.