What Is 5G and Why Is It So Exciting?
Put simply, 5G is the next generation of mobile broadband (the ‘G’ actually stands for ‘generation’). In the making for almost 10 years, it’s being heralded as the true enabler of the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), Industry 4.0, and more.
And the revolution has already started. Countries like the United States, China, South Korea, and the United Kingdom have 5G available in some areas.
5G uses higher radio frequencies to achieve speeds up to 1,000 times faster than its predecessor, 4G. Downloading a two-hour movie would have taken 26 hours on 3G, and 6 minutes on 4G. Now it will take just 3.6 seconds on 5G.
Another big difference is the number of devices 5G can support. Current 4G networks support around 4,000 devices per square kilometer. In comparison, 5G can support up to 1 million.
But perhaps the most significant difference with 5G is to do with something known as latency – the time it takes to get a response to information sent. With its significantly lower latency times, 5G technology will help deliver mobile networks that let us do entirely new things, not just improve on what we’re already doing.
Possibilities include advanced factory robots, self-driving cars and other tasks demanding a quick response – all areas where 4G networks struggle or can’t manage at all.
5G and Artificial Intelligence
5G and AI are mutual enablers. 5G provides the infrastructure and massive amounts of data required for successful AI. While AI, driven by advances in machine learning, provides the ability to make sense of the chaos and complexity of 5G.
Take an already day-to-day example of AI – voice-activated assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. These already use AI to process our requests and give us their best answers. But anyone who has used these tools knows they are far from perfect.
5G could give these AI assistants what they are lacking to be successful – contextual awareness. By having access to more data and having that access at significantly faster speeds, these kinds of devices will have a better ability to understand their surroundings.
5G as a Driver of the Internet of Things
5G will help establish the Internet of Things (IoT) as an indispensable part of our world, by helping to unleash its full potential.
It’s expected that there will be around 29 billion devices connected to the IoT by 2022, a number that will only continue to rise. Current wireless infrastructure doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate so many devices and ensure the exchange of information without lag time.
5G’s extremely fast data speeds, its latency of a mere 1 millisecond, and its ability to support a significantly higher number of devices, effectively remove these challenges.
Accelerating Industry: 5G and Industry 4.0
The fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, was kickstarted by a combination of emerging technologies, such as machine learning and IoT connected devices.
Many manufacturers are already using IoT solutions to track assets in their factories, and consolidating their control rooms and increasing their analytics functionality through the installation of predictive maintenance systems.
One study estimates 35% of US manufacturers are using data from smart sensors within their set-ups already.
In manufacturing, numerous data-intensive machines are often used within close proximity. This is why 5G connectivity is key. In a market reliant on data-intensive machine applications, the higher speeds and low latency of 5G are required for effective use of automatic robots, wearables, and virtual reality (VR) headsets, shaping the future of smart factories.
And crucially, 5G allows this to take place on an unprecedented scale.
Changing the Way We Drive: 5G and Autonomous Vehicles
Imagine a scenario where Car 1 is traveling down a highway at 90 km/h. Suddenly, Car 2 pulls out in front of Car 1.
Car 1 would need to brake and Car 2 would need to speed up to avoid a collision. For this to happen in autonomous vehicles, the sensors on both cars would need to talk to each other, and fast.
A message would need to be transmitted between sensors and then get to the computer in each car. Then the computer would need to make a decision. All this has to take place in less time than a human would take to make a decision – approximately 2 milliseconds.
This is just one example of the types of decisions that autonomous vehicles will need to make constantly, and incredibly quickly.
Inevitably, this involves sending, receiving and acting on large amounts of data with as little delay as possible. The speed and low latency time offered by 5G connections will be crucial to achieving this.
Revolutionizing Medicine: 5G and Healthcare
5G also offers many possibilities across healthcare and medicine. On a simple scale, AI and health-related IoT devices could be used over 5G to monitor patients and make recommendations for the treatment of disease.
On a larger scale, consider the impact of 5G, AI and the IoT on medical research. If we think of a time in the future when a significant proportion of the population wears smart health monitors, it’s not too much of a leap to think that statistics from these could be collected, geotagged, timestamped, and sent to the cloud to be aggregated and processed.
If medical records were also available for AI to process, correlations between different types of exercise and overall life expectancy, or more radically, specific locations and diseases could be determined.
Does 5G Pose a Health Risk?
If you search for ‘5G’ online, alongside many articles extolling its benefits, you may well encounter concerns around its potential health risks.
However, there is still much research to be done to further investigate the effects of 5G electromagnetic energy on the human body.
The physiological effects of electromagnetic radiation change with frequency, so the advent of 5G triggered a major international review of relevant radiation safety guidelines, for which it’s agreed there is insufficient data for a meaningful health risk assessment.
However, researchers are yet to find any major red flags for concern over the health effects of 5G networks.
Powering 5G Connectivity: Our Semiconductor Innovations
Semiconductors are the beating heart of electronic devices. It’s fair to say that the connectivity potential of 5G is only made possible through innovations that are making memory chips smaller, faster and more efficient.
Enhanced integrated circuit (IC) components are behind the transformation from LTE 4G to 5G speeds.
To deliver this considerable boost in connectivity, our Performance Materials team, and others in the industry, have enabled the development of more and more powerful processors, memory chips and other IC devices and components that simultaneously meet energy efficiency and cost targets.
“Megatrends such as digitalization, urbanization, and mobility are drivers of innovation in the field of modern electronic systems,” explains Kai Beckmann, Member of the Executive Board and CEO Performance Materials.
“Our high-tech materials and solutions make the realization of artificial intelligence, Big Data, 5G, the Internet of Things, and autonomous driving possible.”
5G is one of the biggest trends powered by this work, but it’s unlikely to be the last. With developments in semiconductor materials research continuing at a significant pace, it’s clear there’s still plenty of untapped potential.