Feb. 26, 2019 | By Brian Tagami
Imagine sitting in your car, stopped at a red light. Your kids are howling in the back seat, work is calling and you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic—not hard to envision, right? But instead of melting down, suddenly you flip your car into autopilot and have the road guide your vehicle. You download a new release movie to your kids’ iPad, and the sound of silence permeates from the back seat. You slip on a virtual reality (VR) headset and are beamed into a boardroom where you resolve a critical company issue before the movie’s opening scenes finish. This is the world I envision (and can’t wait for) as 5G moves from concept to reality in major markets across the U.S.
5G enablement is all about achieving incredibly fast wireless network performance—well beyond our current physical and wireless networks—and the unlimited possibilities it can unlock to make our lives easier. Those possibilities—called use cases—will soon reshape our society, potentially creating a world unrecognizable by today’s standards. It’s as if a rotary phone was being replaced overnight with an iPhone. Will we even know what to do with a 5G-enabled world?
The race to identify and create exotic uses cases has brought some popular ones into focus. As 5G enablement is unleashed to connect, well, everything, the opportunities to change how we experience everyday life will increase tremendously.
Having the ability to communicate unlimited data almost instantaneously through a wireless network means saying goodbye to a world of restrictions. For example, you used to hang your TVs on the wall and plug in a host of cables. Now, you can choose a device and be connected all the time or switch from one device to another seamlessly, without any physical connections. It’s the same concept for a smart city—but on a much, much bigger scale.
Smart cities will have the ability to connect, monitor, communicate and respond to almost every piece of technology inside its borders. That will enable them to deploy a sophisticated network made up of sensors, antennas, cameras or beacons everywhere to monitor a variety of issues. Say there are garbage cans overflowing in a park. The cans themselves could send a signal to the city’s waste management, who could dispatch a trash truck. Imagine that the sidewalk could alert you when a parking space is available—how much better would your life be if you weren’t spending time lapping the block?
A huge focus has been placed on the opportunity of autonomous cars, smart vehicles and smart roads. From connected bus stops to smart sensors embedded in transport trucks and railways, the use case for autonomous and smart mobility would affect everyone. Not only would commuters benefit from increased productivity during traditionally wasted commuting time, but large-scale societal benefits like road safety, first responders and carbon footprints would see dramatic improvements.
Virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) are technology advancements betting big on 5G enablement. Use cases for enhancing user experiences are quickly lining up. Imagine being at a football game and watching through AR glasses that allow you to interact with player data, statistics and fan responses. Fans could send in questions and access streaming video replays in real time. Or think of attending a music festival and being able to see virtual stage sets and images that enhance the artist’s performance, further pulling you into an immersive environment. Not to mention the possibilities of having a drone deliver a much-desired beverage of your choice, eliminating the cattle-call lineups.
So what is the biggest driver for increased bandwidth? When we ask ourselves this question, three potential answers come to mind: 5G network availability, use cases or 5G-enabled devices. But ultimately, it’s a bit chicken and egg. You need the 5G network in place to use 5G-enabled products, yet you also need use cases to solidify the market opportunities to drive investment and engineering. But without the device community engineering new handsets, tablets, computers and devices, consumers won’t be able to take advantage of the new network.
The good news is that there is significant movement on multiple fronts. Next-gen handsets are already in prototype stages and will be brought to market faster than the typical release cycle to capitalize on 5G use cases. At the same time, technology advancement in network functional virtualization, service-oriented architecture and edge computing is enabling carriers to build faster, quicker networks.
Further motivating innovation is the fact that revenue streams from traditional voice plans are reaching their peak. Carriers need to identify different, creative revenue streams through the IoT, automation, AI and VR. Content providers are also concerned as outdated programmatic revenue models shift to on-demand and platform subscription models. To move forward, they need greater network performance to drive data intensive consumption, high volume machine-to-machine communication and rich, immersive user experiences.
Data is also the key for use case development. As users give up privacy in favor of preference and accept targeted advertising as necessary for accessibility, use case development will rapidly evolve and turn into real-world services and products. Companies who fail to address the new consumer behaviors risk becoming the next Blockbuster.
Technology advancement, network performance and use case development are not the only things standing in the way of a fully 5G-enabled world. Regulation and governance also pose a significant number of challenges.
Jurisdictional regulation, siting, spectrum access and net neutrality can all slow the progress of 5G enablement. Take a look at the rules governing the internet: Preferential access and equality are currently being intensely debated across North America, and it has yet to be decided how the internet will be governed. As 5G becomes a reality, it will be very difficult to maintain perspective on what’s right and what’s best for the consumer with trillions of dollars at stake.
The excitement and possibility of use cases will ultimately drive the future forward. What kid growing up in the 90s didn’t want a transporter, a replicator and a DeLorean? It’s the possibility of dreams becoming a reality that has always propelled innovation from the lab to the marketplace. I would love to hear from you as to what use case you would like to see become top of the pile.
A 5G future is coming. We surveyed more than 300 IT leaders to understand their thoughts and attitudes. Learn about how they’re preparing for 5G and what it could mean for your business.
Brian Tagami is the managing director for TEKsystems communications, entertainment and media. He has more than 15 years of industry experience managing enterprise customer relationships and delivering IT, creative, wireless engineering and field services solutions worldwide. Based in Seattle, he is continuously exploring and building new partnerships with industry leaders and analysts.