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Hot off the heels of the Mobile World Congress 2019, there’s one technology everyone is buzzing about more than any other: 5G. While there were other exciting developments at MWC 2019, 5G was the headliner. Why is everyone so fired up about 5G? Because some of the biggest advancements in digital transformation have been waiting in the wings because they need 5G in order to roll out on a mass scale. Yes, in digital transformation, technology depends on other technology to catch up with it. And 5G is exactly what the following developments have been waiting (impatiently) for.These are 5 advancements 5G will enable in the future.
Did you know we’re already working in Industry 4.0? Smart factories already exist, but 5G will play a pivotal role in smart factory continued development. Moving forward, the manufacturing process won’t be limited to the factory floor. From design to distribution, the entire chain of product development will be connected. Feedback from a customer will be fed to a designer in real time. Product from one location can be routed automatically to a different location due to weather changes and increased customer demand. The inventory that shows when you shop online will actually match what you see when you reach your local brick and mortar store! With the magic of connected devices and the IoT, 5G will help smart factories do amazing things. That’s why the manufacturing industry is outspending every other industry on IoT investment, and it’s expected to do so through 2020.
But that’s not all. Smart factories will grow their use of robots—robots powered by AI and machine learning that help them make real-time decisions. They’ll also be using more robots to do dangerous or arduous tasks, helping keep employees healthy and safe. We’ll see training become safer, too, as smart factories bring augmented reality and virtual reality into the training routine, allowing employees to learn faster and safer than ever before. This is one of the advancements 5G will enable that could change an entire sector.
That last point feeds into the next big advancement dependent on 5G: mixed reality. We have known for a long time that virtual reality and augmented reality can’t experience a full-on rollout until 5G catches up to it. The reason is that for AR and VR to feel like—well, reality—they need to operate at the pace of reality. They can’t be slow, or lag, or process input in anything less than real time. I know you’re probably thinking that some AR and VR applications exist and work fine, and you’re right. But how many have practical real world applications? I’m looking at you Pokemon Go.
This is one of the advancements 5G will enable, because of its increased speed and bandwidth, to really expand. We will see real world applications from maps to business apps. And yes, virtual reality may finally get its day, and 5G should get much of the credit. With 5G, we’ll AR and VR popping up in our cars, our phones, and on our computer screens. It will become a part of everyday life.
I know: enough about autonomous vehicles. It seems like we’ve been talking about them for years, and they still haven’t taken flight. One of the advancements 5G will enable could finally be this technology. I think 5G could be the technology that finally pushes them out (safely) into the world. Why? Because 5G is the only technology thus far fast enough to allow machines to mimic human reflexes. It’s the only thing reliable enough to rest a human life on (let alone the lives of everyone driving around you.) No, 5G won’t roll out overnight. But once it is available everywhere, there will be no stopping the development of safe autonomous machines—not just cars, but trucks, buses, and airplanes, as well.
How much do you hate trying to use slow apps or the internet? We have become so impatient as a society that it’s no wonder that smart cities haven’t really taken off. We all know that up till now smart cities haven’t been very smart. They have pockets of intelligence—smart parking lots, streetlights, etc. But they haven’t been able to hit a level of connectivity that makes a consistent, marked improvement in our daily lives. Too much data on a 4G network and it’s like using slow internet. Who wants to do that?
That is going to change with 5G. Finally, cities will be able to connect via the IoT to do everything from improve trash pickup and keep public restrooms clean to prevent electric power outages and improve traffic conditions. Again, 5G is the only technology fast enough to allow so many devices to connect at such high speeds that the development of these technologies will be worthwhile.
It seems like we’re still talking about the cloud, and here we are moving to the edge. Edge computing, or fog computing, allows data to be processed as close to the source as possible. Because it doesn’t travel as far, it can be processed much faster, making things like autonomous vehicles safer to drive. Long story short, if you’re in a self-driving car and you see an accident about to happen, you don’t want to wait for your car to send that data up to a cloud to process it. You just want it to automatically hit the breaks. The cloud, for all of its benefits, simply isn’t reliable enough to “hold” all of the information the IoT will generate. It comes with security issues, latency issues, even vendor issues, especially in multi-cloud environments.
The 5G Super Highway
In the tech industry, we have a lot of “next big things.” 5G, however in my opinion, really is the thing that will make every other next big thing possible. It’s a super highway that will make 4G look like a little back country road. 5G is taking digital transformation to new heights and it will be exciting to see the developments that come with it.
The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.
Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.