The implementations that have already been made of 5G increase the optimism about its utilities but we are still far from its massive implementation. Credit: Christoph Scholz.

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ISABEL RUBIO | Tungsteno

We expect from 5G the great revolution. The promises are endless: from connecting autonomous cars, machines, appliances and even buildings to enabling complex surgical operations using robots remotely. The benefits of this technology also include the collection of real-time information on traffic or weather conditions in cities. But there is no doubt that it is still too early to have achieved a massive implementation of 5G and see all these promises fulfilled. What steps have been taken so far to bring about a general use of this technology? What implementations have already been carried out?

Remote surgical operations

On February 27, a team of surgeons and anaesthetists performed the first remote surgery using 5G. This technology allows a surgeon from miles away to give instructions in real time to doctors who are performing an operation. In this first surgical operation with 5G, Dr. Antonio de Lacy, head of the Gastrointestinal Surgery Service of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, was at the Fira in l'Hospitalet de Llobregat, where the Mobile World Conference (MWC19) was held. From there, he drew graphic instructions on a tablet with the steps to follow to remove a cancerous tumour from a patient's colon. The Clinic team followed his orders from the hospital.

In this type of situation, it is essential that surgeons can hold conversations in real time without any delay. The advantage of a remote operation being performed with 5G networks instead of 4G is low latency, in other words, a reduction in the time that passes from the moment the doctor who directs the operation gives an order until the team in the operating room receives it. The Barcelona operation is not the only one that has been carried out with this technology. On June 28 at the MWC2019 in Shanghai, the first surgery of its kind took place in Asia. Both operations are part of the Telestration project, launched by AIS Channel, which has the aim of turning any operating room in the world into a remote one. This technology can lead to a revolution in the sector, since 143 million surgical procedures are not performed each year in the world because there are not enough specialist doctors.

5G technology makes it possible to turn any operating room in the world into a remote one, allowing specialists to carry out surgery wherever they are. Credit: Hospital Clinic.

Dizzying mobile download speeds

On June 15th, Vodafone launched its first commercial ultra-fast connection service, 5G, in fifteen Spanish cities. In addition to Spain, this technology has begun to be deployed in other countries such as Japan, China, the United Kingdom, Italy and the United States. Although 5G connection speeds in the future are expected to eventually reach up to 250 times faster than the current 4G, at the moment they are about 10 times faster. It is possible to check this by doing a speed test with both networks with 5G-compatible terminals. By connecting a smartphone to Vodafone's 5G network it reaches 840 megabits per second, while by forcing the phone to connect to the 4G network, it only reaches 90 megabits per second.

This translates into downloads of large files at breakneck speed. This is the case with movies downloaded from platforms such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. While with the 4G network it takes more than two minutes to download a film from the latter platform, with 5G it is possible to do so in just 10 seconds. Despite the already proven advantages, these first launches of 5G networks are made with the non-standalone standard, which uses part of the 4G infrastructure combined with new 5G antennas. It will not be until 2021 that the new generation begins operating at full capacity.

Autonomous vehicles

The 5G Action Plan of the European Union establishes that all major transport routes in member countries must have uninterrupted 5G coverage by 2025. Multiple powers such as Spain, Germany, France and Italy have decided to opt for this technology instead of Wi-Fi due to its low latency, which can serve to improve road safety. The 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) brings together vehicle manufacturers and the main players involved in the development of 5G technology to find solutions for the future of mobility.

5G is presented as an indispensable tool for the development of the autonomous car and has a wider range of applications in areas such as entertainment, traffic data and navigation. There are already some projects that explore the possibilities this technology opens up. Telefónica has presented a prototype of an autonomous minibus connected to the 5G network. This same company has carried out, together with SEAT, a demonstration of assisted driving through the 5G mobile network in a real environment in Spain. It consisted of showing how a traffic light warned a vehicle that it was about to turn red or that there was a pedestrian crossing a crosswalk in a curve with poor visibility. Tests have also been conducted on how 5G can change the experience of passengers of cars, taxis or buses. For example, Ericsson, Intel and Korea Telecom carried out a demonstration in 2018 in Seoul with a vehicle connected to this network. While the car was driving around the capital of South Korea, 4K video was streamed to and from the vehicle. The download speeds, according to Ericsson, reached 900 Mbps compared to 100 Mbps achieved with the 4G network.

Playing in real time changes dramatically video gaming thanks to 5G, a fact that Google has taken advantage of to launch its ‘streaming’ Stadia platform. Credit: Google.

Video games 'online'

5G can be a great ally for gamers. Video game users require a good connection to participate in live tournaments and communicate with each other at the same time. A delay of just a few milliseconds can cause them to lose a game. Eliminating latency —the time it takes for a device to execute an order from the moment the signal is sent— is crucial to the survival of one’s character.

Tech giants and other firms in the sector have now become interested in using 5G to conquer the streaming of video games. Google has recently announced the arrival of Stadia, a platform that will allow users to play from any device without the need for a console or any downloading. Phil Harrison, the company’s vice president, has confirmed the firm’s interest in exploring the possibilities of this new technology. Other companies are already going all in on 5G. Vodafone and eSports ESL have launched the Vodafone 5G ESL Mobile Open, a mobile video game tournament open to players from 17 countries whose final phase will take place in September and will be the first professional eSports competition to be played on a 5G network. There are even gaming platforms in the cloud for 5G networks, such as the one provided by Finland’s Hatch, whose catalogue includes more than 160 mobile phone games such as Space Invaders, Sonic The Hedgehog, Monument Valley, Hitman GO or Angry Birds.

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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

  • Innovation and technology
  • 5G

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