5G – what does it mean for operations?

Yesterday, EE launched the first 5G network in some cities across the U.K.  Over the last few days, commentators and experts have been discussing this in the media. And to my mind, they have been fairly vague about its implications – apart from the fact that download speed will be significantly enhanced and that the internet of things will be adopted universally.  So I thought I would take a look at this technology specifically from an operations perspective…

New consumer services and experiences.  This is likely to be the first application of this technology.  5G is forecast to ten times lower download cost per gigabyte, as well significantly increase download speed.  This will result in enhanced  mobile broadband (eMBB).  As a result some existing online services will be upgraded, and new ones will become available.  Potential examples include:

  • real time interpreting (spoken word) and translation (written word) services.
  • immersive event experiences – EE are in stalling temporary 5G masts at Glastonbury 2019 to demonstrate how this technology will enhance the festival goers experience (see here).
  • virtual reality gaming – this is likely to be facilitated by game streaming services such as Jump (the gaming equivalent of Netflix).

One of the implications of this is that mobile communications providers may need to revise their current business model.  Currently the majority of providers have a subscription model, with tiers of pricing based on usage.  However, market research by Ericsson suggests that consumers are more interested in the value of what they download, rather than how many gigabytes it is.  For a detailed analysis of this, go to Ericsson’s Mobile service packaging for 5G report.

Operationalise emerging technologies.  Currently there are technologies being trialled that need the speed, coverage and capacity of 5G in order to become a reality.  The two most obvious ones – previously discussed in this blog – are autonomous vehicles and drone delivery.

Supply chains. 5G will enable the deployment of sensors, not only to track the physical location of items, but also temperature, moisture, pressure and other information that may be of value to the operator. Logistics will also be facilitated by better monitoring of road and traffic conditions in real time.

Product life cycle.  These are likely to get shorter.  This partly because new product development will be speeded up, so newer products will displace older ones sooner.  But also because many more products will be digital technology driven, and this will continue to evolve at a rapid rate.  Smart phones are a good example of this now, but in the future it will apply too domestic appliance, automobiles and so on.

Smart manufacturing and smart factories. Even today, it remains the case that a high proporti0n of in-plant machinery is wired technology.  5G will enable the switch to wireless operation – removing the need for cabling (which is costly and restricting), enabling the adoption of robots and automation, increasing the use of sensors, and ultimately more remote oversight of plant operations.  This is often referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Cyberphysical manufacturing systems (CPS).  These systems use the IIoT but take it to the next level, by incorporating informatics and analytics into the system.  This means that there whole operation can be run automatically, with little of now input from human workers.

Total preventative maintenance.  5G’s low latency performance will see many more sensors installed in order to monitor the performance of equipment and infrastructure.  Such sensors will monitor many more operational features than previously, such as noise and vibration, which will enable more sophisticated analysis  of potential breakdown or failure.

Fog and edge computing.  We have blogged about edge computing already.  This refers to the idea that data is collected at the local level so that decision making is speeded up.  Fog computing refers to the idea that with 5G, many more machines will be interacting with each other, rather than with humans.  It is likely that operators will start to use a combination of these two approaches in the future.  Note: edge and fog computing are often used interchangeably.  They should not be!

This is just a snap shot of what the effect of 5G.  I am sure I will return to this topic in future blogs.  In conclusion, the major implication of 5G is that it will accelerate digital transformation and fully enable i4.0.

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