How Will 5G Impact Smart Ecosystems?

Austin CityUP Board Members, Fawzi Behmann and Chelsea Collier sit down to talk about 5G, the impact on cities and ecosystems, and what we all need to be doing about it.

Chelsea Collier (CC): Fawzi, as an expert on 5G, tell us in a few short (non-technical terms) what 5G is all about.

Fawzi Behmann (FB): 5G is the new wireless communications system that will revolutionize connectivity. Today our smart phones and cellular communications devices run on 4G/LTE. The next evolution of wireless connectivity is 5G, which is not just a step up from 4G – it is a transformation. 5G offers far greater capabilities, but it’s not a replacement; 5G will still co-exist with 4G for the foreseeable future.

5G has four distinguishing characteristics as described by this WEF article.

  1. Faster response: Sometimes referred to as ‘low latency’ this translates to almost no lag time in applications (the target is less than 1 millisecond). This is described as the Tactile Internet.
  2. Speed: 5G will be 10-100 times faster than what we have today
  3. Device density connection capability: 5G can enable up to 1 million linked devices per square kilometer
  4. Unparalleled reliability: 5G allows a new level of highly-dependable and precision-based applications

CC: So what does that really mean for the average person? How will 5G affect our everyday?

FB: 5G will enable billions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices – more than just (next generation) smartphones – to communicate with each other rapidly, securely, and reliably. And while not all IoT devices will require 5G, things such as autonomous vehicles (AVs) will require this level of responsiveness, reliability, and performance in order to become a reality.

On the consumer level, with smartphones that are 5G-enabled, the user can take higher resolution images, record and transmit streaming video and be able to connect to wearables (such as a smart watch) with much greater speed. Users will be able to view and act upon information in real time in ways that were previously impossible.

Several areas where this will be useful include:

  • Health and Wellness: People will be able to manage their overall health, vital signs, and fitness progress in real time
  • Security: New technologies will secure homes and provide new levels of visibility for users. Also first responders will be able to access and share video and location data in the case of emergencies
  • Operational efficiencies: We will have many new options when it comes to managing and reporting energy consumption

From an entertainment perspective, viewers and gamers will be amazed. The speed and responsiveness of online gaming will be radically better. The experience will be more immersive, more actionable and more attuned to the user. Also the level of dynamic, realistic (e.g. 3D, 4D), real-time interaction and submersion (e.g. VR/AR) will be significantly improved. This will gradually contribute to improving the quality and joy of life.

But the true transformative power of 5G is on a systems level: for buildings, industries, and cities. As we mentioned before, 5G will enable higher levels of autonomy in vehicles (AVs) which requires instant, reliable, low-latency and always-on connectivity. AVs will be exchanging data with other sensors in the environment to ensure responsiveness and maintain safety. When you look at this at a macro level, imagine cars communicating with traffic lights (“vehicle to infrastructure,” or V2I), with emergency response vehicles, with other modes of transportation (buses, scooters, bikes) and then you can see the potential for a fully automated, connected mobility system. People will have more options to get where they need to go, faster and safer.

CC: Please share more about 5G and how these complex systems will be affected.

FB: 5G is not just about technology but also about the ecosystem that provides interoperability and end-to-end solutions. This is why establishing a standard is so important. Also the testing goes beyond connectivity.

5G goes beyond the path that 4G/LTE and any generation of cellular technologies went through. It’s more about enabling services. 5G will enable & support services such as IoT, energy management, transportation, public safety, health and may others. In the 3GPP specifications for 5G, there are more than 70 use cases being specified. You don’t have that with 4G.

5G will create a world that is more flexible, versatile and productive. It will disrupt “the way things are.” It will also allow humans to be part of the loop, not just a “thing” connected to other “things”. This level of autonomy and integration will bring us to a seamless human-machine-things integration. It will become a part of the large ecosystem and make significant improvements to our lives. This is currently a big misunderstanding about 5G – people don’t truly comprehend how transformative this technology will be.

Let us take a closer look at impact of 5G in some areas like healthcare. Suppose you are a patient that does not like, or is physically unable, to visit your healthcare provider on a regular basis. The prohibiting factors may be the cost, time or immobility. Soon, you will be able to visit your doctor virtually, thanks to 5G communication technology, advanced wearables and wireless devices. The healthcare provider can study and analyze your health, activity, medical history, and provide a highly personalized treatment plan for you, all in a virtual environment.

5G technology will also allow your doctor to get critical updates on your condition in real time and deliver effective health care remotely. More than 75% of medical resources are used to treat patients with chronic health conditions, majority of them being the elderly. 5G enables remote patient monitoring on a real time basis and inclusion of patient’s family and caregivers in communications with the doctor and in the treatment plans. The advent of implantable medical devices with this advanced technology is one subset of the health sector.

CC: So what do the players in the ecosystem need to do to prepare for the impending 5G reality?

FB: There is a call for collaboration among technical, third party, regulatory and other organizations to pave the way for 5G adoption and support. In parallel, we are looking at service providers as defining and providing a roadmap for service roll-out. This requires those service providers to further define their target users and business models. This is where more effort and work are needed.

Following are a few examples that will depend on a large quantity of sensors. In order to scale, 5G infrastructure support is required so that they may cover large areas and be able to provide real time processes and analytics.

Managing the environment

Today, the vast majority of cities aren’t equipped to handle the environmental damage that can occur from floods, fire, earthquakes and hurricanes. However, some companies have developed ways to combat inadequate infrastructure with IoT solutions that deliver recurring, continuous value to the cities they power.

Tracking your assets

Moving assets from one place to another is still a pretty manual process, which creates inefficiencies. Products get lost,“fall off the back of the truck” or they are stolen. Stores often either carry too much inventory or they are constantly out of stock. These are clear examples of inefficiencies resulting from imperfect information about where things are and how they are being used.

Remote Diagnostics

IoT devices are also being used to collect detailed and timely diagnostic data in a wide variety of different fields. An excellent illustration of this comes from the agricultural industry. Forward-thinking indoor growers and nursery owners have implemented IoT devices to help monitor and manage their plants. In this scenario, a connected device continuously monitors environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, sunlight, and soil condition.

This data is then collected, compiled, and organized to help growers analyze long-term environmental trends. IoT devices can also be designed to automatically respond to that environmental data. If the device registers low moisture levels in the soil, for example, it can automatically trigger a watering system to correct it. This kind of functionality both boosts productivity, and reduces overhead costs. Like other IoT applications, the end result is a system that is more efficient, more productive, and less costly.

It is important to note that these new ecosystem-based approaches also enable the active participation and involvement of the communities and “citizen scientists”. Everyone will have access to more data and will be part of larger networks and “networks of networks” enabling people to have more impact in how cities are run, how local government decisions are made, how city budgets are defined and spent, etc. Also, 5G adoption will help to create new job opportunities at the local level, as new business and investment opportunities will emerge within specific sectors, e.g. smart transportation and energy through the electrification of vehicles).

CC: So, in his article, Nokia Corporation President and CEO, Rajeev Suri, says “ businesses and governments shouldn’t wait for 5G and the Fourth Industrial Revolution to come to them.” Do you agree with that statement?

FB: Different than 4G/LTE, 5G opens the door for government leaders to participate in the early stage and engage in innovative discussions as to what type of service they strive to offer to their residents. We have new opportunities to help people live more prosperous lives, increase their access to to information, be able to make better choices and decisions, and overall contribute to the improved the quality of a sustainable life.

That includes better access to education and services that would be equally available to the disabled, improved services to the elderly with telehealth, telemedicine and remote care, smart transportation for infrastructure, vehicle, communications among vehicles, that would lead to fewer accidents and more enjoyable driving.

So, as equipment vendors go about interoperability and the testing of their equipment, they have the opportunity to partner with service providers and carriers to test the operations under certain spectrum for range and reach-ability.

This is the time that use cases can be tested with participation of industry and government to ensure that the roll out of services meet the original goals. These trials can be initiated as technical trials then move gradually to commercial trials before services become commercially available, whether within a given region(s), countries or globally.

If an existing system has 4G/LTE, then supporting 5G would also require interoperability testing between 5G and 4G/LTE. The same would apply with WiFi, since 5G will be able to offer unlicensed services (like WiFi).  These systems may require interoperability testing if traffic is transiting from WiFi to 5G or vice versa. Also adding new antenna (air interface) and interface equipment will require multiple levels of testing. Some of these services would be an introductory of 5G services in rural areas.

These connectivity and transmission tests in the past would have been carried among service providers, equipment vendors and tester. With introduction of services, there is a call to engage with municipalities, government and industry to engage in testing use cases that will impact their industry.

Government and regulatory bodies will have the challenging task to ensure that there are policies and procedures – not only on the equipment performance and operational characteristics – but also for the use cases.

Finally, as 5G is adding a number of several disruptive technologies such as network slicing. Additional layers of testing will be required to test the introduction and tear down of new services (e.g. a mobile broadband slice, mission-critical IoT slice, massive IoT slice, automated driving slice, smart phones, industrial robots slice, aerial vehicles slice, virtual reality slice) as a virtual partition of the network for the specific use case. Each slice is optimized to meet different KPIs: wide coverage, massive connection, low latency and high reliability and high data rate. It is important to point out that some of the services based on network slicing can be introduced as 5G services in rural areas along the introduction of mainstream 5G services in urban areas.

It is clear that the 5G network is highly complex, spanning coverage from unlicensed to licensed spectrum, enabling host of services beside the traditional empowering and improving services for smart mobile devices and improve system connectivity.  To assist service providers and content delivery, there is the need of virtualization of equipment for easy configuration, expansion and sustainability.

CC: What advice do you have for business and government leaders? What concrete steps should they be taking right now? And will they be rewarded for being “first movers?” Or is there risk in being an early adopter?

FB: Unlike 4G, rolling out a 5G network, services that include unlicensed/licensed, greater performance of speed, concurrent connectivity, and latency and enablement and support of many use cases is a very complex and lengthy operation. Public-Private partnerships must be part of the roll-out process. Over the next 3+ years, network and service deployment may be confined to certain territories, certain services. It is important that municipalities, government, industry are collaboration with service and content providers.

If we look at examples such as offering data services under 4G/LTE, we witnessed diverse philosophies and approaches to the business model. Some offer it as bundled services, some offer as to how much you demand of the network with scaled pricing per Gbps. Some offer unlimited usage towards paying flat rate. When the service provider offered a managed services such as security services for the home, elderly care, health care, energy management, etc. then this can easily generate endless combinations and bundling. Offering any of these services would require having the support infrastructure in place that does not exist today, per say under 4G. These would require new regulatory approaches and may call for the emergence of new forms of support systems similar to what we see today for alarm surveillance services.

This level of complexity may explain why we don’t see talk about service business models yet for different use cases of services. There is still a lot of ecosystem and foundational work to be done. This call for having collaborative and public forum discussion engaging government, providers, municipalities and the public to voice their views is a mandatory step of the process.

CC: Seeing that a 5G roll out is not easy and there are many players in the equation, what are the risks that can hinder or slow down 5G deployment and adoption?

FB: On the positive side, we see a lot of consolidation on the supply chain side. Semiconductor silicon intelligence is now part of SoC (System on a Chip) with advanced and powerful capabilities of multi-core processors and accelerator and scalable architecture.

Many equipment vendors have acquired semiconductor companies to speed up their process. The evolution of network architecture towards edge computing and other service offerings is causing IoT to provide as much performance as possible close to the edge for actionable intelligence.

On the other hand there are also many challenges. Certainly, lack of standards compliance will cause many interoperability problems. Service providers must make critical architectural decisions to optimize network hardware/software infrastructure for the high-capacity, low-latency traffic demands of 5G, IoT, and an array of edge-based applications. In addition, they face the challenge of applying innovative technologies like network slicing, virtualization (SDN/NFV), and micro data centers to achieve desired results.

The key takeaway is that industry, government and regulatory bodies must keep collaborating, discussing and focusing on the positive impact that 5G and the associated next-generation technologies can deliver.


About Fawzi Behmann:

Fawzi is a visionary, thought leader, author, and entrepreneur in technology positioning, advancing the adoption of technology in serving key markets such as Healthcare, Mobility, Public Safety, and Smart Community/Smart Cities.

With many years experience across the supply chain spanning service providers, networking systems and smart semiconductors, Fawzi founded TelNet Management Consulting Inc. in 2009 offering professional and educational services and development of smart applications and networking solutions.

Fawzi is a distinguished speaker,  having lectured in many countries, published many articles and is the author of the recent book on the future of IoT “Collaborative Internet of Things for Future Smart Connected Life and Business”, published by Wiley. He is a co-founder of “IoT in Healthcare Consortium,” a part of Intelligent Health Association, and vice–chair of IEEE ComSoc for North America and a Board member of the Austin CityUP Consortium. Fawzi was a recipient of several industry and IEEE awards.