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Beyond Manufacturing: how will 5G affect other industries?

clock 5 minutes | 17 Dec 2019

Symbol of the change from 4G to 5G

There’s plenty being said about the impact 5G is set to have — and already having — on the manufacturing industry. We’ve also told you what 5G means for design engineers.
But what about other sectors? How is the 5G revolution likely to reshape them?

In this article, we take a closer look at the mobility, healthcare, agriculture and telecoms industries, and shine a spotlight on the changes that 5G is likely to usher in.

Round 1: 5G vs Mobility

As soon as you mention 5G and the transport industry, there’s one thing that springs to mind: the smart car. Right now, we enjoy a high level of automation in some of our more advanced vehicles. Cameras and sensors on our cars help us to drive better, park better, and generally become a safer presence on the roads.

With the advancement of 5G, vehicles won’t just have the data gathered by their own technology; they’ll be able to interact with the world around them:

Interaction Type Meaning How it works
V2V Vehicle-to-vehicle Vehicles ‘communicate’ with one another using on-board sensors, cameras and other technology
V2I Vehicle-to-infrastructure Vehicles interact with their surroundings. Sensors on roads, bridges, traffic lights etc. inform their movements
V2P Vehicle-to-pedestrian Handheld devices communicate with nearby vehicles, giving them a live overview of activity in the area.

5G internet will enable cars to calculate and adjust their course by the millisecond based on live data in the cloud. And where internet fails, your vehicle’s on-board technology will act as a back-up.

None of this applies solely to domestic vehicles, either.

Commercial and municipal fleets are set to be transformed in ways we can scarcely foresee, with 5G offering hugely increased visibility and control over transport networks. With the continuing rapid expansion of the ecommerce sector, the increased burden on commercial fleets is still catching some distributors off guard.

Sudden, unexpected bursts in customer demand represent a challenge for staff and fleet management: with the best will in the world, there’s no way of making a driver and truck available if they’re hundreds of miles from where they need to be, with a full consignment in the back.

One potential solution to the issue is the autonomous truck: driverless commercial vehicles. In the UK, 98% of machinery, food, consumer products and agricultural goods are transported by truck. If a company was to adopt 5G-based routing technology and fully automated vehicles, it’s estimated that operating costs for commercial fleets could be cut by around 45%. In the U.S., for example, that could save businesses up to $125bn a year.

Combine the adoption of autonomous trucks with advancements in technology and live visibility across a company’s entire fleet, and logistics firms are likely to find themselves in far fewer situations where they’re unable to deliver.

Concept showing the 5G communication network in automotive vehicles

Round 2: 5G vs Healthcare

Data transfer and interconnected devices

5G’s huge connective power and ultra-fast speeds are set to transform how we experience healthcare, starting with the ability to instantly transfer large files from one location to another.

Complex files from MRI scans and other imaging machines will reach specialists with no lengthy waiting period. Similar files can be stored in the cloud for easy and accurate comparisons with live cases. The staff involved will be able to see more patients, more efficiently, in less time.

And if a procedure involves more than one machine, the files will be available on the cloud, accessible from any device in no time at all.

Telemedicine

Consider a patient who can’t get to the hospital or a specialist clinic that’s miles away. Or what if a patient has a potentially dangerous condition that needs careful monitoring over a long period of time?

With previously unthinkable data transfer speeds, 5G networks will herald the wider roll-out of telemedicine (otherwise known as telehealth services). Remote consultations will become a reality, with high-powered connectivity enabling professionals (several, if needed) and patients to communicate easily over video, regardless of distance.

The transfer of the data gathered in these sessions — or over time, via wearable monitoring devices — will give healthcare providers a window into their patients’ conditions, including any worrying changes that might otherwise have been missed.

Patient data analysis

Right now, if patients need a prescription or course of treatment, they have to make an appointment to see a clinician, get the change approved, then visit a pharmacy with the new prescription.

5G — anywhere from 20 to 100 times faster than 4G — has the potential to revolutionise the monitoring of patient health. Where changes to a care plan can take days or weeks to roll out right now, adjustments based on up-to-the-minute patient data could happen almost instantly.

Automated data-sharing between remote monitoring devices, physicians, hospitals and pharmacies could provide the kind of personalised healthcare that could save lives, responding quickly to changes in a patient’s condition — or preventing problems from occurring in the first place.

Large communication towers on a bright day

Round 3: 5G vs Agriculture

One of the world’s oldest and most labour-intense industries, farming — both arable and livestock — is set to benefit from the introduction of 5G in a big way.

In Tennessee, a farmer and son are already starting their day reviewing satellite imagery on an iPad to decide which fields need attention. In Britain, cows are wearing IoT collars, which monitor

bovine behavior around the clock to give farmers the inside scoop on cows’ health and routines.

Over in the Netherlands, drones are helping potato farms in the Drenthe region flourish: the drones scan the fields with a multispectral camera, and the high-resolution images are sent directly to agricultural equipment that doses the crop accurately — practically immediately.

The introduction of 5G has transformed a two-day, multi-person job into an automated one that takes no more than two hours.

And it’s not just out on the fields that 5G-reliant technology is exerting its influence; greenhouse crops are benefitting from round-the-clock monitoring using sensors and cameras. This remote data collection enables farmers (or, more accurately, farming systems) to determine the exact care plants needed in order to flourish. Once installed in rural areas, 5G internet will also help farmers produce more food from less land, with less manual labour.

Data transfer and connected devices in medical industry

Round 4: 5G vs Telecoms

The telecoms industry is a little harder to pin down when it comes to the impact of 5G. The reason is that the sector is experiencing a shift in its very nature, from technology distributor to service provider.

For every industry seeking to transform its offering using the power of 5G, there will need to be a telecoms provider on hand to explore the possibilities available to them — to act as a guide to what is essentially uncharted territory. This new role will push telecoms providers into the spotlight in a way we’ve not seen before.

Meanwhile, the telecoms services we currently enjoy will also be improving on three primary fronts: speed, reliability and capacity.

Ultra-fast connections and wider coverage mean we’ll be able to transfer large files in the blink of an eye. We can expect video calls with no awkward lags — great news for businesses that want to save time and money by switching in-person meetings for videoconferencing.

Network coverage will reach more rural areas, and expand across transport networks, meaning we’ll be able to a get reliable signal whenever and wherever we want it. No more signal dead zones.

That’s not just good news for handheld devices; connectivity is arguably the single most crucial factor affecting the Internet of Things market. With reliable, high-capacity internet being almost guaranteed following the widespread establishment of 5G, we can expect a huge boom in connected products.

To support all of these changes, we can expect to see the telecoms sector leading the way in a switch from traditional industry architectures to more virtual ones: an increase in cloud-based systems will allow for more flexibility in systems and processes, plus enhanced data security.

SUMMARY

While much of the 5G focus has been on the manufacturing industry, it’s clear that every sector is set for serious disruption.

Existing technologies, systems and processes will transform — some more quickly than others — while new connected technologies will overtake and ultimately replace the most costly, unreliable or unwieldy.

Truth be told, it’s hard to accurately envision more than a fraction of the changes that 5G will usher in. While we can examine individual industries, there are bound to be plenty of surprises along the way.

​What does 5G mean for design engineers?