5G-powered IoTs: New fuel for innovation

M Rokonuzzaman | Published: May 12, 2019 21:15:14

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (2nd L) visits Huawei's booth at the 5G Malaysia Showcase event in Putrajaya, Malaysia on April 18, 2019. — Photo: Xinhua

Not long ago, we were in the 2G era of cellular communication. The ubiquitous availability of cellular service at an affordable cost made the dream of voice communication for all a reality. Moreover, basic data service offered by 2G networks also brought revolution in some key service deliveries, including mobile financial services.  In the 3G era, our mobile phone handset became a smart phone, offering a high-speed internet connection. As a result, our smart phone became a window of consuming diverse services starting from social networking to Google searching. At the 4G era, the speed went up further, without opening any remarkable new window of innovation though. The progression of cellular technology continues, reaching 5G. Now, besides offering voice communication and internet connectivity, what else 5G has to offer? On the other hand, existing infrastructure in offering connectivity to the Internet of Things (IoT) devices appears to be good enough. What is new in 5G as far as IoTs are concerned? 

So far, we are apprehensive about data rate as far as the mobile internet is concerned. But there are three other factors: Latency, Reliability, and Capacity. Once we turn industrial products such as automobile or earth moving machine into the Internet of Things, we expect them to communicate as well as collaborate with human and other equipment during operation, the latency seriously matters. Although 100 ms latency does not create inconvenience in the e-mail communication or watching an online movie, this minor delay is a serious performance constraint in many applications. For example, a car running at a speed of 100 km per hour will traverse 2.7 meters during this period. To avoid consequential negative implications like collision, a higher delay will lead to poorer performance. As a result, unless this latency issue is addressed, many innovation opportunities of turning existing industrial products into IoTs will not be able to proceed to exploit the full potential. The 2nd aspect is about the reliability of the connection. Although the poor reliability of 3G or 4G services causes inconvenience, usually that does not lead to accidents or deaths. But failure, or sudden slowdown, in communication in operating remote equipment runs the risk of catastrophic consequences, including death. Once we address latency and reliability, we open the possibility of innovation in getting our job done better at less cost by connecting billions of IoT devices, demanding capacity uplifting.  

So far, 5G promises 1ms latency, as opposed to more than 50ms in 3G/4G services. Promised peak data speed is 10 Gbps, which appears to be 100 times faster than 4G networks; and technology providers also pledge 99.999 per cent reliability. This significant reduction in latency means less delay in the time it takes for devices to respond to data being received from the network. As a result, possibilities of highly time-sensitive applications such as autonomous driving, human-robot collaboration, smart grid, operation of remote equipment, augmented reality-based applications, and remote surgery will open up. Moreover, 5G promises 10 times capacity over the 4G network. Where 4G focused on providing improved speeds and capacity for individual mobile phone users, 5G will enable more industrial applications and could be a major technological driver in industrial digitisation.

The next question is about likely economic implications of 5G-powered IoTs. Most of the economic benefit will originate from industrial applications. According to some studies, remote object manipulation, industrial automation, and virtual as well as augmented reality applications are expected to account for over 50 per cent of the 5G contribution of over additional $500 billion to global GDP by 2034. Among possibilities, industrial automation is at the top with 23 per cent likely share, followed by remote object manipulation, augmented reality, and next-generation connectivity with 18 per cent, 16 per cent and 14 per cent likely shares respectively. On the other hand, high-speed broadband connectivity offered by 5G will contribute just 15 per cent of the expected total contribution. 

For developing countries, 5G offers a significant new opportunity of innovation for addressing key development issues. For example, reckless driving and unfit vehicles are major causes of road accidents, leading to an average 2 per cent GDP loss.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 90 per cent of the world's fatalities on the roads occurs in low-and-middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately half of the world's vehicles. On board IoT devices connected with 5G networks have the potential for real-time monitoring and measures taking leading to significantly lowering of accident level. In education, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Virtual Presence centric innovations open the opportunity of immersing students in a more visual and interactive learning experience. Precision farming is poised to benefit from 5G-powered IoT devices, leading to 20 to 30 per cent yield improvement.

Unlike voice-centric communication and basic internet connectivity offered by 2G, 3G or 4G networks, there is no natural correlation between countrywide 5G-network deployment and economic benefit. The focus should be on nurturing innovation in improving production processes by leveraging this new fuel of innovation. Instead of attempting to have a big jump by importing 5G-powered IoT innovations from abroad, the focus should be on incremental process innovation, taking one step at a time. Such stepwise progressive approach will not only maximise the return but also, more importantly, create local innovation jobs for growing number of graduates. Moreover, the undertaking of 5G-powered IoT opportunities through local innovation, productive knowledge in key areas of artificial intelligence and the technology stack driving the fourth industrial revolution will also be attained.

To exploit this new fuel of innovation, synergistic steps should be taken in multiple areas. During the process of preparing for 5G deployments, we should increase supply capacity of education, research, and development leading to innovations needed by the local productive activities, and also stimulate the demand for the absorption of such innovations through incentives as well as regulatory measures. By cultivating a collaborative environment for the industry, government, education, research, and start-up community stakeholders, countries like Bangladesh can develop the environment required to bring economical and societal benefits through innovations around 5G-powered IoT devices. By addressing this opportunity through smart measures, both new wealth and new high paying jobs could be created. It's needless to say, if we fail to capitalise on the innovation opportunity by strengthening the local ecosystem, we run the risk of making a wasteful investment by proceeding with 5G network deployment.

M Rokonuzzaman Ph.D is academic and researcher on technology, innovation and policy.


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