7 Mins Read  November 26, 2019  David Vaz

5G and IoT | How will Machines change with this superfast internet?

Better than the Internet now? 

The history of the Internet can be traced back to the 1960s, where specific science laboratories in the US, UK and France decided to design and develop a network to communicate amongst one another. By the 1980s, several supercomputing centres started getting funded for further research to establish these networks. Various protocols were designed, and finally, the research at CERN in Switzerland resulted in the World Wide Web, which made information available from any node of the network. Since then, the Internet has created a worldwide impact on the way society and industry behaves. 

Since the 1990s, the Internet has undergone a revolution in terms of design, introduction to the typical household and advancement from the desk to the palm. We have seen the Internet speed increase from Kbps to Mbps, now moving to maybe Gbps and Tbps. We have seen the size of storage devices reduce from floppy disks to compact discs to thumb drives. 

The objective of this brief insight into the history of the Internet was to show how far we have come from being isolated to one another to become as connected as one global village. 

While the Internet has found a place in the culture and commerce, it is now looking for a place in the industry as a view of making the equipment smart. Industry and the Internet have soon come together to start a new phase of the Industrial Revolution called Industry 4.0. 

5G: Fifth Generation 

The Internet of Things, or IoT as it is being known popularly, is yet at a nascent stage as we speak. Scientists and researchers are, however discovering new ways to connect devices to make devices smarter. Also, these discoveries come with their set of implications, which are also under significant scrutiny. The one factor that seems to be impeding the progress of the IoT toward practical IoT application development is the speed of the Internet. At the current 4G speeds, the amount of data transfer taking place among devices is not feasible. There would be a lag or delay in transmitting data which could disrupt the expected harmony among the methods. This could cause a loss of revenue. It could also prove to be fatal to lives if machines like cars are connected and are experiencing even the smallest of delays. 

Hence, the solution: 5G. The introduction of 5G, due in the year 2020, is projected to introduce network speeds going up to 10 Gbps. With such rates, 5G is slated to be the foundation of the upcoming IoT revolution in the world. Keeping the potential of 5G in mind, the industries have been discussing and researching the possibility of applying 5G to improve machine efficiency. The research is also aimed at reducing human intervention merely to the role of supervision and monitoring, along with sustaining the human factor. 

1G to 5G Comparision
Image courtesy: MEEE Services

5G: Not All Speed, But Presence Too

Yes, yes, the 5G internet speed is fast. It is indeed tempting to imagine downloading an HD movie within seconds or even watching it online without buffering. But that’s not the end of 5G. 

5G is destined to be the future of all technology with its omnipresence and low latency. Quick downloads of movies will soon become an old story. The real headline would be fully connected devices such as cars and home appliances operating seamlessly with perfect synchronisation. It could also mean all the vehicles are moving on the road with ideal harmony amongst one another that even a split-second delay could cause an inconvenient jam or a fatal crash. 

Future is Just Around the Corner 

Now that we have understood IoT and have been formally introduced to 5G, it is time to explore the potential from unifying these two entities. 

With the introduction of 5G to the business scene, a society that is already used to the benefits of the 4G. All the computers, mobile phones, and even televisions are connected. On the Industry scene, the machines operate on their own and are in sync with one another to manage the production line. But they are still dependent on human intervention for maintenance and producing data for the analysis. The amalgamation of 5G and IoT will reduce even this need for human intervention. 

That’s not all. The omnipresent nature of 5G will challenge businesses to enhance the requirement and hence, the quality of the services provided by the brands. They can no longer stop at providing mere products but will be compelled to provide services associated with the products. 

The overwhelming generation of data will create a need to develop programs and algorithms to filter the raw data smartly to generate the reports to lead the businesses towards the path to progress. Clear and transparent data and following reports will reduce the scope for misinterpretation. 

Glimpse into the 5G-IoT future 

So, how will the 5G-IoT combination affect the different sectors of life? 

  • Industry 4.0: Smart monitoring of the machinery and devices within the industry will reduce the extent of human intervention. The motor will be interconnected via the Internet and programmed to operate in harmony. It will be able to record performance and maintenance data at regular intervals and generate reports. The machinery will be able to self-assess their condition and notify the authorities automatically. Seamless connectivity can avoid accidents. 
  • Smart Homes: Imagine coming home from work with a hot shower prepared and a pot of hot coffee ready for you to drink. Regular interaction with your devices and connectivity with make otherwise tedious tasks more comfortable at home. Apart from the ease of life, smartly connected devices to the nursing homes with the elderly will improve the quality of caregiving. It will become possible to monitor the health of the ailing elderly patients and quickly provide help in case of emergencies. Any lag in internet data transfer can delay proper healthcare for the elderly in a timely fashion. 
  • Healthcare: With 5G connectivity, doctors and medical researchers will be able to seek a diagnosis from experts across the world. This could improve the quality of treatment and therefore, better medication for patients with severe conditions. Also, with 5G connectivity, expert surgeons can guide, or maybe in the distant future, even operate from a distance. This would require extremely high capacities of data transfer and almost zero lag in the transmission. 
  • Vehicle Connectivity: Auto-driven cars and heavy vehicles can be controlled through 5G connectivity which will ensure safe driving and adherence to traffic rules. Connectivity with emergency systems will ensure timely rescue operations in case of accidents or critical situations. 

Challenges of 5G-IoT

Deploying technology is not an easy task. Every new technology brings along with itself a requirement for specific hardware, which may yet to be developed and not readily available. The invention of television and the radio brought along the need to build towers to transmit signals. This made the costs of deploying this technology very high, resulting in really expensive televisions and radios. Then as the technology developed and became more commonly known, it became a part of everyday lives, and consequently so did televisions and radios. 

Are you replacing 4G with 5G?

Same is the case with 5G. The know-how of 5G is rare, and that’s why there is very little application of it. Therefore, to answer a question in many minds, 5G is not going to replace 4G. Currently, it is estimated to walk alongside 4G. While 5G will provide uninterrupted transmission of signals in a new frequency band called the Millimeter Wave (mmWave), 4G will continue to offer cellular connections on a full-coverage network.

Because the towers transmitting 4G signals are not equipped enough to carry, the transmission of 5G will require new towers which will be few and far between. Also, the 5G wave doesn’t reach more than a mile, which means that it will need massive changes in infrastructure to accommodate more closely placed towers. As a remedy for the situation, for now, the service providers will provide 5G alongside the 4G services, with additional charges. 

Once the infrastructural changes are made, 5G may become more common, but that’s a long way to go. 

Additional Energy Requirements

All the high-speed, high data transfer along with the omnipresence comes with the price of high energy requirement. In an era where we are already dealing with an energy crisis, the need for such high energy will not go down quickly with the energy providers. It will take some time to assimilate the requirement and research alternatives to fulfil the new energy requirements. 

Civil Preparation

While some cities in the US have already started offering 5G networks, the rest of the world is yet to prepare for the challenges that will come with the deploying 5G. One of the main challenges pertains to the jurisdictions. While 5G is likely to erase boundaries, it is necessary to maintain authorities for effective administration and code of conduct. It will become even more crucial to develop a strict set of regulations to control the use of 5G without affecting its advantage. 

Impact on society

The technical side is not the primary challenge. 5G and IoT bring along with themselves a new set of social problems such as:

  • Privacy Issues: While we are excited about the inter-device connectivity and seemingly seamless connectivity, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room: lack of privacy. If all the devices, and hence all the device users, are tuned in to each other’s behaviours and habits, then how will it be possible for anyone to lead a healthy life with the privacy entitled to each individual.
  • Security: A corollary to the above point, it will be a challenge to keep industrial performance and corporate data confidential when there is no limit to how much a device we can share. The human control over devices will have to become stronger to be able to maintain the virtual walls and boundaries to how much information should be shared and received. 
  • Possibility of a dystopian sci-fi-like future: As 5G picks up pace, there are likely to be Smart Cities where every move will be tracked. This is as scary as it sounds. While the invention of technology has always been for the benefit of humankind, nothing is stopping anti-social elements from using it to cause disruptions in society. Sounds far-fetched, but it’s not impossible. 

5G Forecast

While the preparation for 5G has already begun from 2017, it is going to be a while until we can completely transition into the 5G mode. As mentioned, we have to deal with the energy, space, technological and infrastructural challenges. This is going to take at least till 2022 when we research energy alternatives and manageable 5G compatible devices. While we are at it, we will also have to examine the political and ethical ramifications of the advent of 5G-IoT. 

History has witnessed that every technological development has brought along its own set of social and ethical problems. Our previous generations have been mostly caught unawares, but we should learn from them and start preparing ourselves for what lies ahead. This is not to say that we should reject this new era of technology. We should and we must.

But we should not rush into it with guns blazing. We should calculate each move we take. We must understand the importance of the laws and regulations because the consequence of law infringement related to 5g is likely to have broad implications. One break in 5G and network laws in the future could cause a problem to all. So it would not be advantageous for anyone to be apathetic to others’ issues and situations. 

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