FRANCESCO GODELLA | Tungsteno
The curtain on 5G is about to rise. Experts explain that, compared to the current options (2G, 3G and 4G), this new generation of mobile connection makes it possible to transmit more data, faster and with less latency (network response time). Prototypes of the application of this technology are already beginning to be seen in areas ranging from the manufacture of smartphones to the development of the Internet of Things. How will 5G really change our lives?
The first commercial launches of 5G networks took place in the United States and South Korea in late 2018, and telemarketers assure us that before the end of this year the same will happen in 16 other countries. In the EU, the 5G deployment plan envisions that each Member State will have at least one large city capable of supporting this network by the end of 2020. But although investments and preparatory work are multiplying, it is still too early for there to be massive access to this technology.
In the case of mobile phones, for example, we were able to see the first models with 5G connectivity at the end of February at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. The sector promises that these smartphones guarantee faster data downloads and better coverage. Federico Ruiz, head of the 5G National Observatory, believes however that these are still "prototypes" and are unlikely to become a common-use product before 2021. Therefore, he believes that, although "everyone would like to know" now and with certainty what the application will be that will allow the final launch of this network, for the moment it is more feasible to make educated guesses about the areas in which we can expect to see innovative applications.
Better coverage, faster data downloads and less latency, the main advantages of the 5G mobile connection. Credit: Omar Prestwich.
From driverless cars to 360º football matches
Some of these applications were highlighted on the occasion of the MWC, when the Catalan capital became a veritable open laboratory for this technology. The examples put on stage at this event showed its potential in fields such as health, entertainment, industry and the development of autonomous vehicles.
5G, with its rapid response, will permit new options in contexts such as surgical operations. This was evident at the mobile phone fair, where the first tele-assisted surgery was carried out, with the medical team situated in an operating theatre in the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona, and sound and images of the procedure streamed live to the supervising surgeon located at the MWC. A prototype ambulance was also presented which, thanks to 5G, allows a doctor to give instructions remotely to speed up the emergency assistance of a patient. For Ruiz, this is "just the beginning" of what the "evolution of telemedicine" can mean.
The new mobile network, says the expert, means that "downloading a movie will take a matter of seconds" and watching a series, a movie or a program by streaming will be much easier than now. In addition, he adds, it will facilitate the creation of video games based on modalities such as "telepresence" or "immersive reality". As Telefónica and FC Barcelona have stated, exploiting this last dimension already seems feasible in real environments. The company and the football club, which turned Camp Nou into the first stadium with a 5G network, want to enable the watching of matches with virtual reality glasses thanks to the installation of 360º cameras.
With the highest bandwidth, 5G will allow an autonomous car to be connected to its surroundings and communicate with elements such as traffic lights, other vehicles or sensors installed on the road. This will make it easier to avoid traffic damage and interference. The capacity of the new network to guarantee more security will contribute to giving a push to the development of intelligent cities, assures Ruiz.
The speed of 5G will allow tele-assisted ssurgeries such as the one carried out at the Hospital Clínic (Barcelona). Credit: Hospital Clínic.
A springboard for the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence
The expert adds that the smart cities model highlights one of the main characteristics of this technology, that of being designed to support the Internet of Things. One field where new opportunities can be opened up is that of industry. For example, a mobile connection capable of effectively replacing cable networks can make it easier to introduce new machines into an assembly line or modify their layout, he says. 5G is also accompanied by other technologies, particularly artificial intelligence, and this combination, as Ruiz points out, can increase the potential of systems such as smartphones.
The 2G and 3G mobile network generations, he reflects, made us discover the first text-based communication applications, such as SMS, while 4G changed our lives by offering us an Internet connection "basically wherever we want". The consequences of this latest transformation, he adds, range from being able to access a video while we head to work on the subway to requiring a redesign of websites in order to give priority to viewing from the mobile. How 5G will surprise us is yet to be seen.
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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.