Real-Time Communication

5G promises a brave new world of inter-connectivity that will transform our homes, transportation, the workplace, and industrial processes. It also brings with it a wave of exciting new investment opportunities.

April 2019

Then-German infrastructure minister Alexander Dobrindt made a bold statement last year in which he laid out an eight-year plan that will position Germany as one of the world’s leading locations for high-tech ICT infrastructure. “We want Germany to have a high performance 5G network ready to go by 2025,” he said, adding that Germany is also set to become a leading market for 5G applications. Following on from 4G, 5G is the fifth generation of mobile communication offering vastly improved speed and bandwidth and, most importantly, low latency (delays in response time).

5G should be commercially available and fairly widespread by 2020, largely as a result of Release 15, a rubber-stamped set of 5G standards agreed by the global meta-standards group, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). “It will be operational in 2020,” says Professor Frank Fitzek, head of the Deutsche Telekom Chair of Communication Networks at TU Dresden, who is coordinating the 5G Lab Germany.

Numerous investment opportunities will be unleashed by what is effectively a network-wide upgrade in hardware, software, and related services. “The introduction of computing into networks will make a huge difference, while small cells require more sites and base stations,” continues Fitzek. “The main players – technology manufacturers, network operators, and service providers – will have to redefine their working ­parameters and that will be an opportunity for new players as well as smaller companies that provide valuable services.”

A driverless Mercedes-Benz car takes a spin about town. 5G networks will enable real-time decision-making for autonomous vehicle software and will be constantly updating every other vehicle on the grid to let them know what’s around the corner. © Daimler

Smart catalyst

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.

12bn

forecast investment needed
by 2025 to get 5G in Germany fully up and running.
(Source: German Federal Government)

Delivering on the promise

Existing infrastructure, such as lampposts and traffic lights, are to be used as transmitters to aid the reach of the network, while the increased speeds and bandwidths should further enable networked constructs such as smart homes and intelligent energy grids.

You’ll hear about 5G first from the mobile phone providers, who will sell it as a vast improvement on 4G connectivity. But it might be some time before the networks are performing optimally. Behind the scenes, the network gear – switches, routers, and the entire system – will require upgrades. Then mobile devices will need to be built that have 5G chips to take advantage of that new infrastructure. Even after those things appear, we’ll be living in a sort of hybrid 4.5G world for a while. We may have to wait until 2022 and the culmination of Release 16 from 3GPP before the promise of real-time communication is delivered.