5G is shaping up to be one of the decade’s top technologies. But according to an Interdigital Survey Report of 345 professionals across different industries, the lack of a business case is the number one reason companies are not adopting 5G in industrial applications.
One of the challenges of 5G is that many of the most promising use cases are still in the development stage. Most companies are therefore investing in technologies that can immediately be deployed once 5G is commercially available, such as automation, AI, and machine learning. That said, investment in 5G is understandably considered high-risk (and high-cost).
Here are 10 of the most relevant use cases of the technology across our ecosystem that companies can consider when planning business strategies for the long term:
1. Powered-up drone networks
5G can make drones—and all types of unmanned aerial vehicles—much more useful to the humans who use them to collect in-depth data. For example, a strong 5G network would make it possible for companies to deploy collaborative networks of drones in factories to monitor employee safety or tighten security. Drone networks can also be used in cities to manage traffic or save lives, particularly during the COVID-19 period.
5G-powered drones are already having a very real impact. China Telecom was able to build 5G base stations for Wuhan’s instant hospital within just two days. The 5G network powered a network of remotely-powered drones that could kill viruses and bacteria by emitting a constant stream of ultraviolet light. Other drones, equipped with temperature sensors and loudspeakers, are also used to allow medical professionals to communicate clearly from a safe distance.
2. Smarter resource metering
A latency-free network of factory sensors is a great, cost-efficient way to measure electricity and water usage at a manufacturing facility. Power monitoring systems that connect facilities to the Internet have existed for years, but when partnered with 5G-enabled AI software, they could independently adjust settings to reduce waste without the need for human intervention.
SK Telecom has collaborated with energy company Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power to develop 5G-based smart power plant solutions. Here, 5G wireless networks are utilised to create virtual clones of existing factories—making it possible for the company to review any factory’s condition, productivity, and resource usage.
Operators can use predictive analytics to automate the creation of network slices, allowing their clients to use networks according to their own unique usage patterns. Being able to forecast the network demand ensures that resources are provisioned and scaled ahead of usage, allowing for seamless, interruption-free operations.
3. Massive capacity networks for entertainment and work
5G in stadiums can power remote unmanned robot delivery, drone-based identity verification and live-streaming of 360-degree VR video for hundreds of people. An instantaneous connection allows stadium and office managers to make much faster security decisions; a 5G-powered drone delivery system can also reduce foot traffic and help fans better enjoy their viewing experience.
Taiwan Mobile has partnered with the Fubon Guardians to outfit Xinzhuang Stadium with 5G technology, and announced the formal establishment of a Taiwan “5G Alliance” at the stadium in 2019.
4. Smarter production campuses
5G makes it possible for businesses to operate fleets of automated guided vehicles—mobile robots that can follow markers, guides, or lasers on or near the floor.
Deutsche Telekom and OSRAM have been prototyping a mobile robotics solution at the OSRAM factory in Schwabmünchen. The dual slice approach integrates public and private LTE connectivity and also utilizes a local cloud deployment. The AGV fleet at OSRAM’s smart campus will be used to transport goods across the shop floor. These vehicles are safer than their manually-operated counterparts, and can be programmed in a number of ways for maximum efficiency.
5. Stronger edge computing architecture
Edge computing architecture, where complex event processing happens either within a device or through a system near the device, eliminates round-trip issues and provides the speed that enterprises need. Data doesn’t always have to be processed through a central hub. In many cases, it makes more sense to run applications and store the data locally—perhaps through micro-data centres situated near 5G network towers. This reduces traffic throughout the entire network.
Bridge Alliance’s Global MEC Task Force convened in Seoul to discuss the latest in multi-access edge computing (MEC) developments. The task force, which consists of Bridge Alliance members including SK Telecom, Singtel, Globe, Taiwan Mobile, HKT and PCCW Global, aims to develop a 5G MEC ecosystem within Asia.
MEC allows important operational functions to be moved closer to the production line, resulting in much reduced latency and improved reliability of data packet delivery. Smart architecture can simplify application deployment and significantly reduce data storage space requirements. SK Telecom has partnered with Microsoft to develop new MEC services such as the Azure Edge Zones, helping factories to become smarter and much faster.
6. Speedier precision manufacturing
Big data is incredibly big. So big, in fact, that the commonly-used software and network tools we have today aren’t always capable of processing it.
Some components are extremely difficult to manufacture, requiring high precision and accuracy. The ability to monitor a lengthy, complex manufacturing process in real-time saves companies time and money remaking faulty components; deviations can be corrected before they render the product unusable.
Ericsson was able to develop a manufacturing monitoring system by mounting a vibration sensor directly onto the blisk. “The vibration spectrum is transmitted and evaluated in real-time via 5G to the control system,” reports Ericsson. “The very low latency helps correlate the vibration to the tool’s position and enable prompt adjustment of the production process.
7. Virtual reality environments
Virtual and augmented reality can help companies avoid losing time by letting them digitally connect to clients in an instant. Augmented reality software like those used in manufacturing industries can provide clients with the in-depth look they need into their desired product, or provide a platform for creators and buyers to discuss product design issues without having to book a flight and hotel.
In 2019, SK Telecom unveiled Virtual Social World, a hyper-immersive platform containing seven different VR spaces. Users can use their Oculus Go or Gear VR in order to access virtual retail and office environments with voice, text, chat and visual services.
Even smartphone users who don’t have a VR device can access the platform and its services. By using the Jump AR app, for example, users can access eSports stadium League of Legends (LoL) Park. By moving their smartphone around, users can get a 360-degree view of the stadium interior, read and leave supportive messages, and watch greeting videos from their favorite pro players.
8. Easier, more efficient manufacturing
5G can be used to control and transport heavy objects remotely, reducing the human risk involved. Advanced Info Service (AIS) launched the country’s first 5G use case for industry in January 2020 by remotely controlling two forklifts on the 2600-megahertz spectrum range.
The trial tested the connectivity of two forklifts located in SCG’s routine operations in Saraburi. SCG was able to operate the forklift from Bangkok’s Bang Sue district (110 kilometers away from Saraburi), successfully moving pallets from point A to point B accurately in real time.
AIS and SCG committed to further R&D of the application of 5G, and also agreed to further develop continuing education for workers’ skills in line with digital transformation.
9. Safer self-driving vehicles
5G networks are critical for self-driving vehicles. 4G networks may be fast enough to stream HD video and play online games, but they still suffer from major latency, even in major cities around the world. Self-driving vehicles rely on a network to transmit information from the car’s sensors to the “brain” of the car so that it can make a decision as fast as possible.
China Unicom has partnered with Volvo Cars in order to research, develop, and test automotive applications of 5G and emerging vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology. 5G would make it much faster for a car to take pre-emptive action such as slowing down or suggesting a different route in the face of predicted traffic. This helps boost traffic safety for people inside the car, and avoiding start-and-stop traffic improves efficient energy use.
10. Powerful smart campuses
A smart campus would unlock myriad new opportunities for educators and students. 5G supports powerful technologies such as 3D printing and virtual reality, allowing teachers to create immersive demonstrations and elevate the learning experience. Students may not even have to physically attend classrooms anymore.
Students could use VR headsets to explore a virtual human body or simulation of a galaxy, for example. They could also enjoy lectures from the comfort of their homes or dorms. Still, other possibilities include VR/AR class trips and advanced artificial intelligence, robotics, and medical training for secondary students.
In Australia, Optus is partnering with Perth’s Curtin University to develop a 5G-powered smart campus. This introduces an on-campus 5G lab for “research, teaching and learning, and collaboration on 5G projects”.
How can 5G help your business?
In order to take advantage of 5G’s full potential, we must foster a spirit of collaboration and innovation. That can happen as quickly as scheduling a Zoom call. Last month, Bridge Alliance hosted its very first 5G Forum, bringing our member operators together to discuss the state of 5G rollouts as well as share consumer and enterprise best practices.
Bridge Alliance’s newly released 5G Exchange Portal is another form of necessary collaboration and info-sharing across telecoms. This was designed to help Alliance members operators exchange 5G-related industry knowledge. Members have access to the 5G Head Map to learn about fellow operators’ deployment and launch status, 5G Insights in the form of industry use cases and whitepapers, and the latest 5G news and regulations.
5G holds promises for cities and companies alike, making processes much more simple and saving resources. Interested in learning from our ecosystem about 5G use cases and how it can be implemented in your country? Get in touch with Bridge Alliance today.
Note: The 5G use cases listed in this post are accurate as of 23 September 2020.