The Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly developing and expanding around us, bringing with it technological advancements that would’ve been unimaginable ten years ago. But one restricting factor has always been bandwidth, which represents the carrying capacity of data a network can transfer. Similar to how a road has a speed limit, there are limits to how fast data can move depending on how strong the internet connection is. The greater the bandwidth (in other words, the greater the speed limit), the faster the speed of transfer. Cellular networks have good range but limited bandwidth, whereas Wi-Fi has good bandwidth but limited range. This could change with the growth of 5G.
Also referred to as the fifth generation of mobile network, 5G is expected to increase cellular bandwidth by tremendous amounts, therefore making it easier for IoT to network large numbers of devices simultaneously. This will open countless doors of opportunity for a variety of industries as well as offer resolutions for everyday struggles (traffic, finding parking, in-person shopping), ultimately not only progressing but enhancing the lives of all citizens.
With the rising number of connected devices, more sensors can be stationed throughout smart cities and on buildings. As of right now, smart city sensors are rather limited and are generally positioned on lamp posts that only roughly cover an area; 5G will grant saturation of an area with small sensors, which can be used to detect pedestrian movement to turn on lighting, faster deployment of emergency services to accidents, detect and warn of natural disasters early, and there is only more to come. Another development 5G could bring is smart electricity grids for reducing carbon emissions. Within buildings, Bluetooth technology has already created the ability to track people, vehicles, and equipment, but with 5G, a greater volume of data can be transferred with IoT. Picture hospital beds that can regularly monitor vital signs of a patient and consistently keep doctors updated at the same time.
Continuing from the notion of hospital beds, telehealth is another department that will be substantially improved and reformed with 5G. For example, 5G will increase internet speeds in remote areas, potentially allowing for things such as specialist surgeons working in small rural clinics to use robots to perform surgeries with a lesser chance of network blackouts, disconnections, and lag time. Coupling this with the personal medical kits currently in the works, people with contagious diseases could be diagnosed without having to come into an office or hospital, removing the risk of spreading contamination to medical personnel. Furthermore, wearable health monitors encourage patient engagement in their own healthcare, increasing the odds of positive outcomes, and are also expected to reduce hospital costs. To summarize, by applying 5G to IoT, telehealth services will not only improve greatly and ultimately save more lives, but citizens will be saving more time and money.
Now, where can that saved money be better spent than through shopping? Picture yourself wandering through a store and having your phone—or more ideally, your AR glasses—tell you where the item you’re searching for is. AR, short for “augmented reality,” glasses are designed to enhance reality through digital projection of information (for example, 3D images) onto wearable glasses. Imagine having the ability to look at a dress and your smart-glasses then pulling up a picture of how it will look on you. What’s more, smart tags and digital signage will create a much smoother and enjoyable shopping experience.
If you’re more of an at-home shopper, 5G will improve the shipping and tracking process as well. True, factories and warehouses are already using real-time tracking for inventory control and to track products throughout the entire cycle thanks to IoT in manufacturing, but 5G promises to take this to the next level. With 5G, supply chains may soon develop a single system to, for instance, track a product from the manufacturing stage to the end-user seamlessly and without any need to check it in or out, and the buyer would be alerted when a product is delivered (or “lost in the mail”). Other benefits that are expected to come with integrating supply chains are reduced costs, overall better customer service, and a decreased likelihood of losing a product in transit.
5G and the Internet of Things are both large-scale technology advancements, each taking the world by storm and transforming aspirational visions to real-world applications. What’s so game-changing about the fifth generation of mobile technology is its pledge to provide reliable, faster speeds of larger volumes of data for any IoT device (we’re talking beyond mere phones and computers, but self-driving cars, smart-glasses, medical sensors, etc.), all while running on the same radio frequencies our current devices are using. It’s a reality upgrade that will enable our ever-evolving technological achievements to provide better services to citizens, and therefore creating a better way of life.