5G is Coming – What are We Going to Do with It?


5G is Coming – What are We Going to Do with It?

History Tells Us to Expect the Unexpected


When the last generation of wireless technology - 4G LTE - debuted in 2009, no one could have predicted the changes that would follow. The use cases that drove the development of 4G LTE had nothing to do with disrupting the taxi industry, yet Uber and Lyft did just that, enabled by 4G LTE. Initial industry use cases did not mention social media, yet social media companies utilized 4G LTE and smartphones to expand greatly (Facebook, Twitter) or to simply exist (Instagram, Snapchat.) Streaming video to mobile devices (Netflix) disrupting the cable and satellite industries? Renting your home or a room to strangers (Airbnb) disrupting the hospitality industry? The point is simply that the most interesting and disruptive use cases due to 4G LTE were not envisioned-at least not in their entirety-prior to widespread availability of 4G.


5G New Radio (NR) is the next generation of wireless technology. While still limited in availability globally, the rollout has begun. What should be expected from 5G NR? Could 5G help with a health emergency like the one unfolding in China?


The Promise of 5G


I’d like to say I know what 5G’s Uber or Airbnb is, but unfortunately, I do not have a crystal ball.


The technical promises of 5G are known: faster data speeds, better response times, higher densities of devices, more reliable and more available, designed to assist massive numbers of  “things” as well as support vehicle-to-anything communication, and much more, all while being more energy-efficient. While 5G is being built to support technical requirements such as these (only much more specific), so what?


In my recent analysis - The Far-Reaching Potential of 5G: Explored from the Perspective of Key Vertical Industry Use Cases - I touch on the “so what”.


While it sounds both exciting and a bit scary, I look at the automotive and transportation industries and autonomous vehicles. Yes, cars and trucks that do not have a driver. 5G NR will provide the next steps to move us towards this futuristic-sounding goal.


Automated factories? Smart cities? 5G will be a key piece of making these objectives a reality.


Healthcare is top of many minds and 5G NR promises to provide several interesting possible use cases. 5G to move large amounts of medical data? That sounds reasonable. Remote monitoring or remote check-ups? Ok. How about remote surgery? A surgeon operating on someone NOT in the same room and maybe not in the same country or continent? The driverless vehicle is beginning to sound more reasonable.


Most of these are not here yet, but they are getting closer every day. Remember, these are just a small selection of use cases that I explored. What about those disruptive use cases that have not yet been explored by anyone?


Could 5G Help with Something Like the Novel Coronavirus?


China continues to battle a novel coronavirus-now officially named COVID-19-which has infected more than 43,000 people and claimed more than 1,000 lives (as of February 11, 2020.) This provides an example of where 5G NR could potentially help in the future: the remote healthcare use case.


Remote healthcare comes into play when either the doctor or the patient is not local. Remote healthcare requires real-time, high-quality video conferencing among other things, which today generally requires wired networks. 5G will enable and greatly expand the reach of remote healthcare. While this use case is often discussed to improve rural healthcare, an epidemic such as COVID-19 illustrates another time when doctors and their patients may be remote from each other. Specialists may not be able to travel to their patients due to travel restrictions, such as those that are in place in the hardest-hit areas. Doctors may be able to treat a larger number of patients remotely. While large urban centers likely have the wired networks needed for remote healthcare, a 5G NR wireless network expands the extent of the population that could be assisted. In other words, 5G could provide a useful tool with remote healthcare to assist in a health emergency.


The scope of Frost & Sullivan’s 5G coverage deals with all aspects of the mobile value chain, from delivery infrastructure to innovative services and use cases. All facets of 5G NR will continue to be assessed as they unfold over the next decade or so, and when a new, unique, disruptive, or just plain successful use case develops anywhere in the world, Frost & Sullivan will be there.


Troy Morley
Senior Industry Analyst within Frost & Sullivan's ICT practice


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