5G is also – importantly for Germany – seen as a foundation for smart cities and smart energy grids, reducing inefficiencies across the board. Global research firm Gartner predicts that 20.8bn devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, compared to an estimated 6.4bn connected devices in the world today. This represents a dramatic increase in demand for speedy connections and a huge amount of technology and hardware to be produced.
Most importantly, 5G is a critical component in the Internet of Things (IoT), a commercial concept that envisions a world where not only devices but also machines, cars, robots, and all manner of electronic objects can be linked in real-time communication. Home appliances, door locks, security cameras, wearables, pet chips, and many other inert devices could all be reinvented through real-time communication. “Projects in automobility and the industrial internet have been the most prominent for the potential achievable results,” continues Fitzek. “But energy, agriculture, and construction will all be significantly impacted by the improved communication.”
While the projected costs of delivering 5G are high – an issue that has attracted criticism worldwide – the value of the telecoms market is bound to leap (an industry that has seen little growth on the tail-end of 4G). “Nobody has the complete picture,” says Fitzek. “The pricing of real-time communication is an interesting but unresolved problem.”
The impact of true “real-time communication” on other industries will be enormous, if hard to quantify. It matters less for video game players or music streamers, but for applications such as driverless vehicle software, it’s the difference between success and failure. At the moment, an autonomous vehicle must be equipped with every type of sensor to avoid it hitting anything else. But ultimately, there is no sensor that can see around the next corner. A network running on 5G – enabling autonomous decision-making in real time – could be constantly updating every vehicle on the grid to let them know what’s going on immediately around them, as well as what’s coming up elsewhere on the route. 5G will improve all kinds of decision-making processes in this regard – especially those made by robots, who could run amok without the ability to react in real time to an emergency situation.