Unleashing the Internet-of-Everything with 5G connectivity
Widespread rollout of 5G will amplify the power of AI running our connected world.
By most accounts, 5G is going to be big. The World Economic Forum sees it adding $3.6 trillion in economic output by 2035. IHS Market predicts it will enable an even larger $13.2 trillion in output by that time. And telecom giant Orange forecasts it will power 1.3 billion connections by 2025, covering about 40% of the global population. Recent mandates to work from home and practice social distancing also impress the importance of digital connection.
All of these are incredibly heady numbers, but they don’t offer much clarity into how exactly 5G will improve the day-to-day of businesses on a granular level. Essentially, the technology promises to greatly improve the speed, stability, and volume of data transfers between connected devices. This will ultimately make it possible to create a web of seamlessly and continuously linked sensors — or in other words, the Internet-of-Everything.
The reliability that 5G delivers over 4G LTE opens up significant opportunities for IoT companies offering services based on a steady stream of data-driven insights. Many of these solutions leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that require vast amounts of data to hone their predictive power. Today, it is tremendously expensive to send large quantities of this data across cellular networks and the bandwidth is relatively limited. 5G will enable a dramatic expansion of processing capability.
“If you’re piping a lot of data back to the cloud for heavier computations done centrally, you need bandwidth that LTE doesn’t support,” notes James Wu, Co-Founder and CEO of InnerSpace, a start-up using IoT sensors to optimize the use of workspaces. “That’s something 5G promises to solve once that infrastructure is built out.”
The widespread deployment of 5G will also marry the best of centralized and edge computing, which is becoming popular within IIoT circles. For example, data gathered by sensors can be processed on the spot for instant action, but it can also be fed across 5G networks to a centralized server where an AI algorithm can learn from it more quickly. This new insight can then be fed back to the connected devices in the client’s network so they can operate more accurately and effectively.
“A company might have 10 to 100 injection-molding machines within a factory and there might be multiple factories with them. The more you can take what you learn on one machine and take it to the machine next door, the more scalable it becomes,” says Scott Everett, Co-Founder and CEO of Eigen Innovations, an industrial IoT start-up using AI to improve production efficiency in the automotive sector.
The scalability of those data insights isn’t limited to the same type of machines or sensors. Thanks to the speed of data transfer made possible by 5G, machine learning algorithms will be able to amass enough relevant information to draw conclusions about similar applications across different industries. That allows best practices from one location to be ported over to others, as InnerSpace’s Wu highlights using a corporate cafe operator as an example.
“We can start to identify patterns at a higher level than just a particular building or particular customer, like a class of building or a class of customers or a vertical of businesses,” he says. “We’d like to be able to leverage AI to look at the data across tens of thousands of cafes and identify insights relevant to the business of cafe operations in general, not necessarily the specific cafe site.”
Of course, 5G’s potential won’t be realized overnight and is highly dependent on the successful rollout of new telecommunications infrastructure that supports it. In many ways, it will be more of a challenge to bring reliable 5G coverage to the mainstream than it was for 4G. Whereas 4G relies on a relatively small number of telecom towers to provide a signal to large geographic areas, 5G requires a large number of micro-cells scattered everywhere to achieve a consistent connection.
“Being able to leverage [5G’s potential] is dependent on building out that infrastructure to make sure it has the coverage needed for those use cases to be available everywhere within a built space,” notes Wu. “We’re moving to a different spectrum which has less capability to deeply penetrate physical infrastructure like concrete bricks and metal.”
Despite the time and effort it will take to roll out 5G infrastructure, there are some very promising early steps being taken around the world and the results will be more than worthwhile. 5G will make it possible to bring autonomous vehicles, smart city services and smart electricity grids online in the coming years. And within businesses, it will fuel a new connected era in which machines make it possible to get the most out of human employees.
“We see the opportunity with AI to have the factory floor workers — the engineers, the quality control workers — interact with technology and actually help teach it, and train these machines to drive themselves so we can unlock new levels of productivity and efficiency,” says Everett of Eigen Innovations. “It’s kind of taking current automation to that next level.”