The next generation 5G mobile network promises blistering speeds; early tests have seen download rates of at least ten times faster than current 4G networks.
But 5G isn’t only about speed. “We can fit vastly more traffic onto the network,” says Anne Sheehan, business director at Vodafone UK. “There’s endless scope to connect things – people, sensors, machines – in new and creative ways.”
Perhaps more important than quick upload and download speeds are latency reductions. Latency is the amount of time it takes for a network to respond to a request being made from a device. “5G works in real time,” Sheehan says. “It has the potential to transform the world of work by allowing greater collaboration plus new ways to manage teams and operations.” And it’s not just larger businesses set to benefit: startups are in a prime position.
At the launch of Vodafone’s Digital Innovation Hub – in Salford’s MediaCityUK – Sheehan says 60 per cent of startups believe 5G can help them take on their bigger rivals. The Innovation Hub allows new companies to access 5G’s possibilities and experiment with what is possible. Vodafone’s research, in the Go Beyond report, shows startups believe faster speeds and greater network coverage will allow them to grow rapidly. But what is less understood is the impact that lower latency, increased security and more data collection will offer.
At the Vodafone Digital Innovation Hub launch, 5G experts came together with startups plus members of the medical and gaming industries to discuss how the network will change what’s possible.
It’ll be easier to work flexibly
Maria Hatzistefanis is always busy. “I own a business, I am a mum, I have a podcast, a book, and I like to work out,” says the founder of the global beauty firm Rodial, which has a presence in 35 countries. “My life is crazy but I am also a workaholic, I work 24/7.”
That means whenever Hatzistefanis has an opportunity to work, she takes it. That might be on the way to work, in between meetings, in waiting rooms or when travelling on the train. The scenarios all lend themselves to potential connectivity challenges. 5G coverage will change this. Hatzistefanis says the increased technical capabilities will let her get more done – wherever she is. “Right now, I feel I’m working at about 70 per cent,” she explains. “If I had 5G, I would be a lot more efficient. I believe it will be transformational.”
Transmitting the feel of touch for the first time
“For me, 5G is a puzzle in a much bigger design scenario,” explains Mischa Dohler, a professor of wireless communications at King’s College London. For Dohler, the changes that 5G brings will allow new experiences to be built with emerging technology. Sensors which form part of the Internet of Things will easily be connected to the low latency network, allowing greater levels of data to be transferred and analysed.
But 5G will also allow us to augment our senses. “We’re not able to transmit touch and muscle movement through the internet but we will with the low latency capabilities of 5G,” Dohler says. He is working on creating the “internet of skills” that will allow for kinetic movements to be sent to other locations. For instance, a person wearing an internet connected glove could have their movements mimicked in real-time by a robot somewhere else in the world. As Vodafone’s 5G network was launched on July 3, it demonstrated how touch could be transferred using the technology. Wearing a haptic suit, Wasps Rugby player Juan De Jongh instantly felt the impact of a tackle made by fellow player Will Rowlands, more than 100 miles away in Coventry.
“We are now starting to build the devices which allow you to execute skills remotely,” Dohler says. “I think it will change the way we teach medicine or maintain engines for example.”
Experts will always be available
As Dohler predicts, 5G is likely to change how the world of medicine works. Surgeon and tech entrepreneur Shafi Ahmed is already seeing that happen. In 2016, Ahmed live-streamed the world’s first surgery in virtual reality. Using hospital Wi-Fi, which he says can be unreliable, footage of the operation was broadcast around the world and allowed students to follow the procedure as an instructional aid.
The introduction of 5G will supercharge this potential. Ahmed says the new mobile network underpins some of the biggest changes that are happening within medicine and will allow artificial intelligence, robotics and big data to be properly utilised.
“I see healthcare changing enormously and being data-driven,” Ahmed explains. In October 2017, he used Microsoft’s HoloLens during surgery to get real-time advice from other medical experts around the world. Avatars of surgeons based in New York, Mumbai and London were shown in his field of view. These external experts were able to give extra advice to assist the surgery, but again were transmitted by Wi-Fi. Ahmed says that 5G’s low latency means there won’t be any delay in the transmission of the avatars going forward, helping surgery be completed more efficiently.
Entire new worlds can be created
The UK’s gaming industry is rich with giant development studios and startups alike. In June 2018 there were at least 2,261 gaming companies working in the country, contributing billions to the national economy. The firms are now starting to envision how 5G will change what they do.
“The games industry is becoming platform agnostic,” says Tracey McGarrigan, the CEO and founder of Ansible Communications, who has almost 20 years experience of the gaming sector. Increasingly, hardware and software platforms are becoming more alike and allowing cross-playing. This will only be accelerated by the increase in game streaming services – Google is set to launch its Stadia streaming platform later this year and both Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox are introducing their own rivals.
To have millions of gamers playing simultaneously in online environments – from consoles or mobile devices – there needs to be low latency. “5G will reduce that latency, get the product to consumers and raise the e-sports level and competitiveness,” McGarrigan says.
Scott Petty, the chief technology officer of Vodafone UK, agrees. “Gaming is an industry you should follow, even if you’re not into gaming,” Petty says. “It drives a huge amount of innovation and technology.”
5G is just the start
Now that 5G has launched in cities around the UK, it will be possible for startups and entrepreneurs to begin using the network. But it is still just the start. At the moment 5G availability is limited to major urban cities and there are only a small number of compatible smartphones.
Petty says that the rollout of 5G will be faster than that of its predecessor, 4G. “It won’t be many years until there are many more things connected to our networks than people,” he explains. “These are likely to include new sensors, machines and devices that haven’t even been invented yet.”
Until then, startups and businesses are set to capitalise on 5G’s potential through the first networks and Vodafone’s Digital Innovation Hub. “We are empowering today’s startups and small businesses with the expertise and technologies to help turn their blueprints into reality,” Sheehan says. “We want our 5G services to help UK startups become global leaders in their fields”.
Learn more about how 5G will supercharge businesses to work in real time here.
To experience 5G, customers must have a 5G ready device, downloaded with the manufacturer’s 5G software, a Vodafone 5G plan and 5G coverage in the area that you are in. 5G coverage locations are listed here.