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5G will be the key driving force for COVID-19 recovery: Here's how?

Devdiscourse News DeskDevdiscourse News Desk | Updated: 12-08-2020 17:13 IST | Created: 12-08-2020 10:52 IST
5G will be the key driving force for COVID-19 recovery: Here's how?
Image Credit: ANI

Communication technologies play a vital role in times of extreme disruption. From enabling contact tracing and telemedicine to supporting virtual learning and e-business, digital communication technologies have been a lifeline to humanity in the COVID-19 pandemic era.

5G - the next-generation cellular technology that promises to offer higher bandwidth, massive connections, and lower latency as compared to the existing 4G LTE network, is critical in supporting the ongoing fight against this deadly virus and will act as one of the driving forces in the recovery process. The technology is not just about speed, it is also about having the ability to simultaneously connect more and more devices, be it a smartphone, smart vehicle, smart home, or any other tool that can be made digital.

There are numerous examples from China, a leader in the 5G race, that demonstrate the indispensable role of the new wireless technology in winning the fight against the pandemic and related socio-economic disruptions and also highlight its importance for the future of connectivity. Here are some instances:

  • 5G telematic infrastructure helped the Chinese city of Wuhan manage the pandemic. The 5G infrastructure made it possible to connect all the digital instruments of the local health system and all the medical staff to the network, providing extended connectivity at very high speeds.
  • Remote collaboration: Operators and healthcare partners provided a 5G-based remote assistance solution to address the shortage of medical workers and critical resources in hospitals. Integrating an HD video conferencing system with a CT diagnosis system, the solution helped medical experts in different cities to read scans remotely and make diagnoses in real-time.
  • COVID-19 online diagnosis: In Yunnan province, the Kunming Medical University in collaboration with China Mobile, launched a 5G-based "Online Platform for Free COVID-19 Diagnosis and Treatment" to provide free diagnosis and treatment services for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases.
  • Live-streaming: Leveraging "5G + optical fiber" dual gigabit network solution and video cloud resources, the construction of Huoshenshan (Fire God Mountain) Hospital, and Leishenshan (Thunder God Mountain) Hospital in the Chinese city of Wuhan was live-streamed in high definition on a 24-hour basis. The non-stop live broadcast included 4K, 360-degree VR streaming of the construction to deliver immersive viewing experience to the public.
  • Virtual learning: In the virtual educational sphere, China Mobile Zhumadian leveraged 5G to provide teachers and students with free software platforms and training services such as "Cloud Video Distance Education", "Live Distance Education" and "Synchronous Classroom" to enable teaching and learning from home.
  • 5G drones were deployed to remotely patrol and disinfect streets, deliver urgent goods and disseminate information about the anti-epidemic efforts in virus-hit provinces of China
  • Autonomous vehicles and unmanned delivery robots were deployed for contact-free delivery of food, medicines, and other essential items.

The above use cases would have been possible with 4G connectivity too, but what makes 5G wireless network technology different is that it has several benefits, especially higher speeds, and less latency (the amount of time it takes to send information from one designated point to another) over the previous generation networks. In addition, 5G could support up to 100 times more devices than the fourth-generation cellular networks. The fresh wave of digitalization and automation triggered by the COVID-19 will significantly increase the number of connected devices in the near future and 5G have the capability to handle the surge in connected devices than previous generation networks.

Given these advantages, 5G will be crucial for promoting innovation and economic growth during and beyond the crisis. The emerging wireless technology will also pave the way for further advancements in digital technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), and Virtual Reality (VR), among others. Industries hit hardest by the pandemic including healthcare, transport, manufacturing, among others, can reap the benefits of this high-speed and low-latency network to foster economic recovery.

This article highlights some potential applications and usages that 5G will bring to life:

Connected Healthcare

The crisis has stressed the need for smart and connected healthcare systems for critical patient care and communication. As observed throughout the pandemic, 5G has gained massive momentum in the healthcare industry. Post COVID-19, healthcare is one of the key industries that will see the highest impact due to 5G, mainly driven by the adoption of telehealth and social distancing culture. From facilitating remote consultation and diagnostics to real-time patient monitoring, the new and evolving wireless network technology will be crucial to support the transition towards smart healthcare systems and making them more resilient to future crises of this massive scale.

5G-enabled healthcare will unlock a new era in personalized patient care and pave the way for the development and adoption of several healthcare technologies including the Internet of Medical Things, smart wearables, telemedicine, ambulance drones, real-time medical data management systems among others. Remote health services such as telemedicine and remote robotic surgeries can eliminate time and geographical barriers for patients and healthcare professionals, thanks to the low-latency and ultra-reliable connectivity provided by 5G. This can make a significant contribution to rural healthcare which faces an acute shortage of medical professionals and accessibility challenges.

Industrial automation

As already discussed in a previous article, the pandemic containment measures like social distancing and labor shortages have prompted a majority of industries to start embracing automation to ensure business continuity and mitigate future risks. The ultra-low latency and high-bandwidth capabilities of 5G will be the backbone of all advanced manufacturing and industrial automation technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Industrial Internet of Thing (IIoT), and 3D printing that are set to change the industrial landscape. 5G capabilities can meet the communication requirements and support intelligent production in automated factories.

5G-fuelled automation technologies will completely transform workplaces, making them better and safer. As 5G supports the industrial Internet with a data rate of 10 Gbit/s or more, a transmission latency of milliseconds, a capacity of hundreds of billions of connections, and synchronization that is precise down to nanoseconds, it will help enhance machine-to-machine and machine-to-human interactions in the industry 4.0 era by eliminating lag times whilst maximizing production efficiency.

5G-enabled smart manufacturing can also provide health and safety support by facilitating real-time remote maintenance and control in hazardous environments (e.g. construction, mining, etc.) where workers' safety is at risk. Incorporating 5G wireless technology to such worksites will grant the ability to integrate video-based virtual control of autonomous vehicles and machinery and safeguard workers' overall well-being.

Smart Transport

Connected Vehicles and Intelligent Transport Systems involve the use of digital technologies such as AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) to deliver more convenient and responsive services and improve the overall efficiency of the sector. 5G-powered automotive and transport services can enhance operational efficiency, sustainability, optimize routes to ease congestion, and make roads safer by facilitating real-time interactions at unprecedented speeds.

According to Intel, a self-driving car will generate more than four terabytes of data per day and 5G has the capability to handle the vast amount of data generated from vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication. Overall, 5G is crucial to meet the evolving needs of the automotive and transport ecosystem.

Media and entertainment

As the consumption of live and on-demand digital content has significantly increased, 5G will reshape the media and entertainment industry landscape and will create new experiences for consumers. According to the '5G Economics of Entertainment Report', the monthly traffic per 5G subscriber will jump from 11.7GB in 2019 to 84.8GB in 2028. By this time, video is expected to account for 90 percent of all 5G traffic, the upcoming transformation of entertainment and content will quickly begin as lightning-fast data speeds, massive bandwidth, and low-network latency are spurred by the 5G technology stack.

With fast and real-time streaming capabilities, 5G will unlock more personalized, immersive media and entertainment applications including AR/VR and cloud gaming, TV and on-demand content streaming services, and create new revenue opportunities for businesses as they recover from COVID-19 disruptions.

Looking Forward

Even as the novel coronavirus has gripped the entire world, 5G technology continues to gain momentum. With 308.66 percent growth over Q4 2019, global 5G connections reached 63.6 million as of Q1 2020, according to industry trade organization 5G Americas. In addition, Ericsson's latest projections say that the global number of 5G subscriptions will top 190 million by the end of 2020 and 2.8 billion by the end of 2025 while 5G is expected to account for 18 percent of all mobile subscriptions by 2025.

The post-pandemic era will be the era of technological revolution as the pandemic has intensified the development and adoption of innovative technologies to help humanity adapt to the changing situations and better prepare for future disruptions. As with any technology, there are some concerns surrounding 5G including the risk that it can exacerbate the existing digital divide. While some concerns remain with this technology, the significant economic gains and technological advancements that 5G promises can't be resisted.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) calls for adopting the following legal and regulatory actions to facilitate equitable and affordable deployment of 5G networks:

  • Supporting the use of affordable wireless coverage to reduce the digital divide;
  • Enhancing the availability and quality of existing 4G networks in the run-up to 5G.
  • Policy-makers and operators should only consider deploying on-demand 5G networks
  • Commercial incentives such as grants, or PPPs to stimulate investment in 5G networks.
  • Timely availability of spectrums

Sound policy, regulatory actions, and public-private partnerships (PPPs) will be vital to facilitating the upgrade of ICT infrastructure and delivering inclusive and equitable access to next-generation wireless technology.


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