The generation game: The impact 5G will have on retail, storage, smart cities and more

Laura Barnes speaks to those in the know about the power of 5G and how it will affect our day-to-day lives.
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5G holographic call

At this point in time, most people will have heard about 5G in some capacity. You’ll probably know that it’s the fifth generation of mobile networks, and will have no-doubt seen various comments thrown around about how amazingly fast it will be. But, do you know the ways in which 5G is set to impact various parts of our working and personal lives?

PCR caught up with industry experts to uncover what 5G means for communication and streaming, how it’s going to affect the way we use storage, and how retailers can capitalise on super-fast connectivity.

In the 1980s we saw the introduction of 1G, with the first mobile phone call made by Vodafone. At the time, the analogue network was voice only. In the ‘90s we saw 2G and the UK’s first text message – again, sent by Vodafone. With 3G launching in the early 2000s and 4G launching in 2013, the world started regularly using mobile phones for much more than phone calls and texting. These mobile networks enabled people to make video calls, stream content and utilise cloud computing. And as laptops became more portable and tablets offered an in-between option, it became imperative that mobile device users stayed constantly connected.

Now, in 2018, not only has EE set up 5G trials in London, but Vodafone has continued its run of firsts by completing the UK’s first holographic phone call using 5G.

In September, the company made a call from its Manchester office featuring England and Manchester City Women’s Football captain, Steph Houghton MBE. Using 5G technology, she appeared as a live 3D hologram on stage in front of an audience at Vodafone’s UK headquarters in Newbury.

The call followed the announcement in June this year that seven cities would become Vodafone 5G trial areas by the end of the year. In Ofcom’s April 2018 auction, Vodafone secured the largest slice of the 5G spectrum and has since announced that Cornwall and the Lake District will receive 5G during 2019, and has also promised 1,000 5G sites by 2020.

“5G will be the platform for big advances in technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT, robotics, connected cities and self-driving cars. It will enable many applications that we cannot imagine today,” Vodafone UK’s enterprise director Anne Sheehan tells PCR.

“From paramedics who are in constant, real-time, video link conference with the emergency room, to roads that don’t require traffic lights because driverless cars are able to talk to one another about upcoming obstacles – 5G has the potential to make these seemingly far-fetched scenarios a reality.”

Sheehan explains that it is not just businesses that are set to benefit from 5G, but consumers too. “Imagine a world where billions of connected devices, underpinned by a 5G network, are working quicker and for longer. Today’s digital innovation is also enabling the smart home where everything is connected. It won’t be long before a drone drops off the shopping that your fridge and cupboards have ordered or a boiler has warned you that it is about to fail and has searched the internet for ratings and recommended you a plumber.”

Mark McCarter, product development manager at memory solution provider Ortial Technologies, delves deeper into the consumer benefits of the new mobile network.

“5G will have a massive impact on consumers with the faster speeds, greater capacity and lower latency of this network being its headline benefits. We can expect to see increased performance from mobile services first – no buffering of video services, fast download of movies to mobile devices, and increased 4K HDR broadcasts.”

Another interesting use for 5G lies within the benefits it will bring to those creating these movies, TV shows and broadcasts.

“5G would enable the broadcaster to only send the cameraman and reporter instead of a whole production crew. The footage can get back to the studio in a fraction of the time it takes a physical transfer. With a 5G-enabled camera you are ready to film as soon as you step out of the car. 5G could be the difference between an exclusive and a ‘me too’,” BT Sport’s director of mobile strategy Matt Stagg explained in a recent article in TVBEurope.

“A live production needs bandwidth and latency, and while that can be enabled on 4G, it can’t be guaranteed. Using network slicing in a 5G core, we will be able to provide a dedicated broadcast-grade network that will give that guarantee of performance.”

As 5G helps people stream, download and connect to more things, what does this mean for the world of storage?

Ortial’s McCarter believes that the services being created for 5G will only facilitate the necessity for increased storage and the processing of big data.

“With the rise of AI and the drive towards an autonomous future for the car industry, this gives Ortial a great opportunity to be a key component supplier to any industry that needs large capacity storage or fast processing network products,” he says.

“For example, autonomous vehicles will need the low latency/high capacity data throughput to make decisions in real time, but they can’t do this without huge computing power on board to calculate hazards in the environment around it and as it monitors the many sensors built into the vehicle it will need to store this data before it’s processed.”

Smart Cities

With 5G comes the ability to implement futurist-sounding “smart cities”. In order for public amenities and infrastructure in cities to become “smart”, there needs to be a fast, responsive and stable network that can handle a vast amount of data.

“Fortunately, 5G networks will provide this enhanced connectivity,” says Sheehan. “Whether it’s providing more seamless communication between autonomous cars and traffic lights or improving existing solutions for emergency service communications deployment, 5G will enable the communication between different amenities and infrastructure. This will make our cities smarter, cleaner and safer.”

McCarter adds: “The 5G network will allow consumers and businesses to have access to new services offered by the creation of smart cities, enhanced capabilities of smart home products and real time access to big data.”

Some of these businesses within smart cities will be retailers looking to utilise the benefits that 5G brings. Sheehan believes retailers will be able to see an increase in shopper engagement.

“With a rise in communications through chat apps, and retailers investing in chatbots, shoppers will be able to interact at faster speeds and have a better customer experience with the introduction of 5G.

“The speed of 5G will also improve digital signage: high resolution videos will be able to be streamed, allowing shoppers to access a greater quantity and quality of information,” she says.

“Furthermore, 5G will see the growth of new services designed to improve the customer experience based on virtual reality, augmented reality or mixed reality. Shop assistants will be able to browse large stock lists at speed and shoppers can place themselves in environments where they would be able to use a product and get a real feel for how it would work in their lives.”

Going Mainstream

The future certainly looks bright for super-fast connectivity, but when can we expect to see 5G become mainstream?

“This is a tricky one, we all want these things right now and you could argue that 4G has only just hit its stride and here we are talking about its successor,” says McCarter. 

“However, the benefits of 5G for consumers, coupled with the adoption by the car manufacturers and the use cases for shaping society through the creation of smart cities has got many governments looking at investing in this technology.

“We will see the first uses for this technology within 12 months, but we believe in reality it will be many years until it realises its potential. The important thing for Ortial is to stay close to this and be the first to market and continually adapt our product offering to reflect the changes and opportunities in this exciting area.”

Vodafone is eager to bring customers 5G as soon as possible, but Sheehan tells PCR that there are a number of factors that will impact when it becomes mainstream.

“Existing masts need upgrading, as do handsets, and 5G also needs fibre. Fibre connections are essential in providing the high capacity links between 5G mobile sites so that information can flow back and forth from connected devices, the internet, the cloud and company servers in the blink of an eye,” she explains.

“Just as you need a 4G-capable device to connect to 4G networks – users will need the right handsets or devices to connect to 5G. Most 5G handsets won’t arrive on the market until middle to late 2019.”

While it’s clear that tech companies are working hard to get everything in place to fully and effectively roll out 5G to the masses, it seems the industry as a whole is wisely making sure it doesn’t get too far ahead of itself.

With the impressive advancements in so many areas of technology dependant on 5G, the next couple of years are set to be an interesting time for next-gen connectivity. 

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