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Answering the 5G call

Nurdianah Md Nur
Nurdianah Md Nur1/4/2022 4:31 PM GMT+08  • 6 min read
Answering the 5G call
Simply deploying tech isn't enough to realise a 5G reality.Here's why the ecosystem play and reinventing processes are crucial too
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As the Asia Pacific region continues to deal with the pandemic and its economic impacts, connectivity will be vital to rebuilding economies and making them more resilient to future shocks. Fortunately, fifth generation (5G) networks are now available in several countries across the region to help with economic recovery.

5G is not simply 4G on steroids. While it does deliver higher speed and more reliable connectivity than previous network generations, 5G also offers massive connectivity and lower latency — all of which enable emerging applications like industrial automation and self-driving cars.

“Many people think 5G is a progressive improvement over 4G but that’s a myth. 5G brings about a lot of architectural changes and new capabilities that enable new ways of work or services,” says Dennis Wong, Singtel’s vice president for 5G enterprise and cloud. He was speaking at the 5G for Future Industries panel discussion, held recently during SGInnovate’s Deep Tech Summit 2021.

A research done by Finnish telecommunications equipment maker Nokia notes that 5G-enabled industries have the potential to deliver US$8 trillion ($10 trillion) to the global GDP by 2030. One industry that is poised to benefit from 5G is manufacturing, says Brenda Harvey, general manager for APAC at IBM during the same panel discussion.

When combined with other technologies, 5G can enable visual inspection of operating assets and production lines, as well as AI and augmented reality technician assistance. It can also help automate warehouse operations by supporting the use of AI-driven, autonomous robots.

See also: Can automation help your company fight the Great Resignation?

It takes an ecosystem to realise the 5G reality

While businesses across industries are showing strong interest in 5G, unlocking the full value of the technology is no easy feat.

“It is important for enterprises to start early, be ahead of the learning curve, and to get hands-on experience to see how 5G can be applied to any given industry sector. [However, the 5G market] is broad and fragmented with diverse industry and market requirements,” Dr Magnus Ewerbring, APAC CTO of Ericsson tells DigitalEdge Singapore. Thus, he believes 5G trials are a “great way for organisations to test how they can use 5G in their respective areas”.

5G trials usually involve ecosystem players fulfilling various roles such as infrastructure providers, telcos, chipset and device manufacturers, as well as government agencies and universities.

See also: Ecosystem and use cases are key for enterprise 5G to become a game-changer

This is exemplified by the [email protected] programme, which aims to catalyse the public sector’s adoption of 5G connectivity ahead of Singapore’s nationwide 5G rollout in 2025. Under the programme, government agencies use the Government Technology Agency’s (GovTech) Smart Nation Sensor Platform and Singtel’s 5G network and edge cloud infrastructure to trial and study the viability of 5G applications.

As of October last year, 10 trials were leveraging the lower latency, higher speed, and broader bandwidth of 5G technology for use cases in areas such as construction, manufacturing, healthcare and tourism. For instance, the National Environment Agency (NEA) is working with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to test the tele-operation of the autonomous environmental service vehicle (AESV), a driverless road sweeper.

5G’s high bandwidth and low latency enable live camera feeds to be streamed from the vehicle to the offsite operator, as well as transmitting haptic feedback and vehicular commands. These trials would enable an off-site operator to play the role of the on-board safety driver, a current requirement for autonomous vehicle trials and in the eventual deployment of such vehicles on public roads.

Keys to scaling up

Although it is encouraging to see more 5G trials being conducted, those trials need to be scaled throughout an organisation for the technology to be a game-changer. This calls for businesses to rethink, reimagine and reinvent their enterprise processes.

IBM’s Harvey advises organisations to first relook at their workflows to identify the areas that can be enhanced with 5G’s low latency, high bandwidth capabilities. They also need to consider concerns around the data that is being generated, collected and used by 5G applications. For example, they must think about who owns that data, as well as how they can ensure data privacy, transparency and governance to build trust.

Additionally, she also highlights the need to have an open hybrid cloud platform that allows the organisation to easily onboard applications, run its workloads both on-premises and on any cloud, and collaborate with 5G ecosystem players.

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She says: “By doing so, organisations can easily view and connect data that might be previously siloed, as well as integrate processes internally and with external parties to come up with new innovations and business models.”

Singtel’s Wong adds that a change in mindset and having the right skills are critical for 5G to become mainstream. “Adopting 5G and all the new [and complementary] technologies call for a new way of doing things, such as practising CI/CD (continuous integration and continuous delivery) instead of us- ing the waterfall model of developing and deploying applications. Those future technologies also require [talents] with the right skill sets, [which is why there is a heavy focus] on upskilling.”

Can we skip 5G and jump into a 6G era?

Most of the world has yet to experience the benefits of a 5G network. However, some countries — such as the US, China and Singapore —are already making efforts to participate in the 6G race. When asked if it is possible that those countries will leapfrog 5G and go straight into 6G, Ericsson’s Ewerbring says he is highly doubtful it will happen.

As he explains: “According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, 5G is expected to be the leading technology by 2027, accounting for around 50% of all mobile subscriptions worldwide, covering 75% of the world’s population and carrying 62% of the global smartphone traffic. Today, it is important for us to drive and enhance 5G, and learn from the evolution of use cases during this decade, for us to use the knowledge when we later define 6G.”

The 6G era will most likely happen from 2030 onwards, he adds. “[By then,] we can expect 6G to have transformed around increasingly advanced technologies, where 5G plays a key role and where the future networks act as the communication and information backbone, allowing anything to communicate anywhere and anytime.”

“One potential application would be the Internet of senses, where 6G can help enhance the digital experience beyond the audio and visual senses to include smell, taste, textures and even temperature.”

However, Ewerbring notes that similar to 5G, reaping the benefits of 6G will require organisations to “look at the new needs that the current technology cannot serve, the technology needed to cover the new requirements, ecosystem maturity, investment cycles to the developer and application ecosystem overall”.

Photo: Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

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