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The promise and potential of 5G

Introducing the next generation of connectivity

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5G networks are expected to improve end-to-end latency by upwards of 5 milliseconds.

Picture this: It is the year 2049. Cars drive themselves, online shopping parcels are delivered to consumers via drones, and travellers no longer need passports when they travel abroad. While some might find these scenarios hard to believe now, the global marketplace is in fact undergoing the early stages of one of the biggest technological transformations in history, with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and automation becoming intertwined with virtually every aspect of life. 

To handle such advancements, the fifth generation of wireless technology, also known as 5G, will soon be required to help manage and process massive amounts of data. According to Seagate’s e-book, Data at the Edge, tomorrow’s 5G networks will improve end-to-end latency (the amount of time information takes to get from one place to another) by upwards of 5 milliseconds, meaning that the time taken to download songs on Spotify, films on Netflix and large game updates will be significantly shortened. 

Apart from faster transmission speeds – 5G can achieve speeds of up to 10Gb-per-second – 5G networks will also be able to overcome the ‘last-mile’ technology barrier in remote places lacking access to cable internet infrastructure. 

Last-mile technology refers to the technology that carries signals from the core network along main roads to houses. While this method is still used by many communities to transmit data to and from individual homes, it is a complicated process that involves digging, cabling and high maintenance costs. With the onset of 5G, this problem can be solved.  As 5G uses radio waves instead of cables as the medium for signal transmission, this removes the need for traditional deployment associated with last-mile technology. As such, data transmission can be made quickly and effortlessly.
 
Compared with current 4G networks, 5G will enable more connections, customer touchpoints and interactions, while requiring less energy from devices when using the new protocol. By greatly enhancing connectivity across networks because of its speed and greater bandwidth at the edge, 5G will open up a whole new set of Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities for industries including banking, finance, agriculture and manufacturing. 

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5G networks are expected to cover one-third of the world's population by 2025. Analyst firm IHS Markit estimates that 5G will drive an additional US$12 trillion (S$16.3 trillion) of annual global sales in 2035. As the number of IoT devices rises, the amount of data they generate will increase at an exponential rate. According to analysts at DBS Group Research, there are expected to be 125 billion devices linked by 2030, up from 11 billion last year.

Powering a smart nation

5G connectivity is set to give smart cities a major boost. Photo: Seagate

In the case of Singapore, accelerated connectivity will support its Smart Nation ambitions.

Autonomous Vehicles: In a sign of things to come, Singapore has rolled out its first on-demand driverless shuttle bus service along a 5.7km route on Sentosa. Faster transmission speeds enabled by 5G will enable these autonomous vehicles to benefit from the real-time transmission of traffic and pedestrian data. The low latency of 5G also means that data can be processed quicker, increasing the responsiveness of autonomous vehicles in response to sudden changes in road conditions.  

Autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to transform Singapore's public transport landscape and bring about benefits such as less traffic congestion, lower levels of greenhouse emission from vehicles and greater mobility for the elderly and disabled. 
 
Health care: With an ageing population, Singapore’s healthcare system needs faster, more efficient networks to keep up with the huge amounts of data it deals with, from patient information to high-resolution MRI & CT images. A split second difference can be a matter of life and death for some patients. 5G’s connectivity and low latency allow for massive amounts of data to be transmitted without slowing down speeds of other users on the network.

With 5G’s connectivity and low latency, high resolution MRI and CT images can be transmitted in an instant. Photo: Seagate

Doctors will be able to monitor in real time patients’ health data that is captured on remote monitoring devices such as tech wearables, which will reduce need for patients and their caregivers to travel and wait for appointments in hospitals. 
 
Retail: With 5G, time-consuming activities such as shopping and getting groceries can be sped up without compromising on the experience. Three Singapore brands — Octobox, OMO Store and Pick & Go — recently announced plans for new unmanned convenience store concepts to debut later this year. Among other things, the stores will tap on AI and facial recognition technology to track shoppers' movements.
 
AI-run stores fitted with 5G capabilities can instantly retrieve data on a shopper’s history and preferences the moment he or she steps into the shop. Immediate analysis of the data can be made to serve up customised recommendations, helping shoppers save time on browsing and decision-making.
 
Maritime: 5G connectivity will also help future-proof industries such as the maritime industry. As the world’s busiest trans-shipment port, Singapore managed more than 36 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers last year. 5G technology currently underpins on-going trials for smart port management such as the one appointed by port operator PSA International to Singtel and M1 earlier this year. The trial is expected to enable operators to remotely control driverless cranes and trucks to load and unload containers, and remotely inspect machines using driverless drones.

Security: Border security is another facet that can be enhanced with the rollout of 5G. Because 5G is capable of a 10GB-per-second peak data rate, security footages captured on unmanned patrol boats, surveillance cameras and drones along borders can be transmitted in real time, saving manpower while not compromising on security. 
 
The importance of preparing for 5G at the edge

Edge computing enables data to be processed closer to the data source (end point), rather than on a cloud server (core), so analysis and answers can be provided more quickly.
Photo: International Data Corporation (IDC)

For these future possibilities to materialise, there is one big caveat: Even as 5G allows massive amounts of data to be transmitted almost instantaneously, the proliferation of data in the 5G age calls for better data storage and processing solutions.

Data will have to be stored closer to the data source in order for analysis and answers to be provided more quickly. End-users, customers and businesses have come to expect and demand quicker and faster responses.

By extension, edge computing, which refers to data processing carried out in micro-modular data centres at the edge of a network, has an “edge” over a cloud or a central data warehouse which may be located at greater distances.
 
The prowess of 5G networks can be fully unleashed only if and when infrastructures for data at the edge are in place. Only then can value and insights be derived from data.
 
In a nutshell, 5G and data at the edge will open up a whole new world of opportunities for businesses. Business owners need to be forward-looking in their strategies by studying areas that can capitalise on the potential of 5G ahead of time. 
 
Now is an opportune time to start looking into beefing up IT infrastructures and investing in data processing capabilities at the edge, so that your company is poised to seize the opportunities of 5G.