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Super-speedy wireless broadband is on the horizon and promises to help the world work more efficiently anywhere, any time. James Day introduces a new dawn for digital nomads and explores what 5G networks will deliver, from instant connectivity to faster adoption of cloud-driven AI
The world’s first 5G public trial has just launched in Australia, which is somewhat ironic given that gigabit-speed wireless broadband supposedly does away with the need to dig ‘Down Under’ to lay new cables.
In truth, 5G is a collective marketing term, rather than an actual technology, for next-generation internet speeds achieved via mobile networks, satellites, power lines or upgrading previously buried cable.
You can expect to see commercial launches over the next three years in North America and major markets across Europe and Asia-Pacific, according to GSMA Intelligence(1), plus a swathe of new 5G-ready devices such as smartphones by 2019.
Stating the obvious, stable and speedy connectivity will become crucial as our reliance on remote working increases – half of both the UK and US populations will be working remotely by 2020(2)(3). That’s before we’ve even discussed the demand for Internet of Things (IoT) devices and artificial intelligence (AI).
Let’s leave the networks to deal with that headache for now and focus on what we’ll be able to do better and faster with 5G.
1. Better business communications
Take a look at the way you communicate for work. Telephone calls, video calls, emails, enterprise messengers, remote-access applications and content management systems. All are vital for productivity, profitability and success.
Now think of the problems that could hinder your progress if you don’t have access to a fast, reliable connection: poor network coverage, call dropouts, unstable and low-resolution video, and lack of bandwidth for logging on, downloading and responding.
Enhanced mobile broadband from a faster 5G connection with greater coverage promises to eliminate these issues, for example by streaming high-resolution video, audio and images with very little latency (the delay before a transfer of data begins, following an instruction for its transfer).
“The majority of mobile operators around the world indicate that enhanced mobile broadband will be the core customer proposition in early 5G deployments,” says Dennisa Nichiforov-Chuang, senior analyst at GSMA Intelligence.
If you rely on working in a collaborative environment when you’re away from the office (if you even have one), or on contact with customers, clients and colleagues, instantaneous communication compared to current hold-ups will feel like getting rid of a stuffy nose.
2. Smarter artificial intelligence
Think about the time-saving opportunities that voice-activated digital assistants present for workers on the move, such as composing text messages and emails, making reminders and to-do lists or dealing with calendar entries.
The combination of 5G networks with AI in the cloud is expected to help machines learn quicker and understand language in context – because while we’re all adopting Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant and Cortana, misunderstood requests are holding us back.
Predictions state that 50 per cent of all searches will be via voice by 2020(4) and around 30 per cent without a screen altogether(5). Accessing the information we need becomes quicker and increasingly reliable with 5G, and it also supercharges AI-powered services.
A major example of this is text-to-speech services from the likes of Amazon, Google and Nvidia. Imagine having a PDF document read out to you like a podcast, or presentation notes recalled without the need of a screen – and that’s not to mention the benefits for visually impaired employees.
Microsoft HoloLens enables users to interact with holograms in the world around them
3. The Internet of Things
Connected devices are changing the way business is done, from managing production remotely to speeding up deliveries to customers by connecting all relevant processes.
Because 5G networks are built to withstand the growing connectivity requirements of the Internet of Things (IoT), they allow for up to a million devices per square kilometre(6) and they’re more energy-efficient, prolonging battery life.
Ericsson expects 5G to be deployed in major metropolitan areas first(7), so business travel will benefit from smart city solutions such as connected traffic lights, autonomous cars and robotics.
“The Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are moving towards mainstream adoption and offer opportunities for innovation, growth and productivity improvements,” says Nichiforov-Chuang. “Over the next decade, 5G will be instrumental in the development of these major trends.”
4. Making meetings more fun
Conference calls can be a sure-fire way to fall asleep on the job once Steve has moved onto his sixth slide regarding the cost savings gained from changing tea bag supplier.
Gaze in wonderment, then, at the potential for 5G holographic calling, enabling users to view 3D presentations with or without glasses. Its one-way technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) benefit from the added bandwidth support from 5G.
Microsoft HoloLens enables users to interact with holograms in the world around them, while Microsoft Mixed Reality creates a virtual meeting space populated by avatars of you and your colleagues. Collaborating on projects and sharing ideas becomes more energetic and exciting, and all it takes is a Windows 10 PC and headset.
“AR and VR are expected to benefit from the introduction of 5G with its superior data-streaming capabilities and lower latencies,” adds Nichiforov-Chuang.
5. ‘Network slicing’ is the new essential IT term
If you’re a CTO, IT manager, programmer or coder, ‘network slicing’ is a term that should leave you salivating at the foot of the 5G fountain.
It allows a 5G provider to ring-fence part of its service for the specific needs of an application, service or device, resulting in a dedicated and stable supply of juicy bandwidth to allow you to work more effectively.
Speed, capacity, connectivity and coverage are allocated to meet the demands of each use case. For example, video calls could be isolated so they’re not compromised by other traffic. This increases security, too, as a cyberattack could be confined to a single slice.
Shared workspaces could benefit from dedicated slices for cloud computing tasks unaffected by users watching Netflix on their lunch break, or shared households setting up slices to divide email traffic and gaming – online Call of Duty becomes better than ever.
“Network slicing is one of the most promising options. This would involve an operator reserving defined segments, or slices, of network capacity for a particular customer at a guaranteed quality of service,” says Nichiforov-Chuang.
James Day is a UK-based technology journalist