Leveraging 5G to create a better world

Johannesburg, 22 Apr 2020
Read time 4min 10sec
Werner Nel, Terminal Testing Manager, ZTE South Africa
Werner Nel, Terminal Testing Manager, ZTE South Africa

5G has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past few weeks, with the next-generation wireless technology being targeted by conspiracy theorists and fake news. This may seem like harmless fun to some, but it has the potential to undermine the significant benefits that 5G offers.

Werner Nel, Terminal Testing Manager at ZTE South Africa, explains that the opportunities 5G offers go far beyond technical specifications, the faster speeds and lower latency. Rather, it creates a platform where organisations can create entirely new business models, supporting new ways of communicating. This includes interpersonal communications, but also allows for the creation of new networks, those created by systems sharing information to change the way we live.

“If we look at the current crisis, where millions of people suddenly needed to be able to work from home instead of the office, providing these people with high-speed Internet connections put massive strain on global networks. The additional speed and capacity offered by 5G is already helping fill that need and it will be essential in supporting employees who may end up working remotely in the long term,” he says.

“With many people working remotely, we’re going to see the creation of new ways of interacting that take advantage of 5G networks. We’re seeing the growth of both virtual and augmented reality and one possible implementation would be to help engineers to work with remote field technicians to diagnose and resolve problems via a combination of the two technologies from anywhere in the world.”

A lot has already been written about the creation of the smart society, where Internet of things (IOT) devices interact with each other to create a more connected, safer society.

“The benefits of being able to collect and analyse large amounts of data has been highlighted during the current crisis as governments suddenly had a pressing need to collect health and movement data to monitor the spread of the COVID-19 virus and intervene where necessary. While privacy is a concern, the ability to simply monitor the body temperature of large numbers of people proved to be a vital part of the Chinese government’s ability to break the cycle of transmission in hotspots like Wuhan,” Nel says.

Beyond the immediate crisis, smart health applications can help take the load off the existing health systems by allowing patients to be monitored at home for any number of conditions that might have required hospitalisation. Using artificial intelligence systems linked to smart devices would ensure that medical teams were alerted should an intervention be necessary. This would allow people to recuperate in their own home, freeing up hospital beds for more urgent cases. This kind of care is not possible without the high speeds and low latencies that 5G provides.

“Beyond health, the capacity of 5G will allow for the creation of smart cities, where any number of systems are connected to improve the lives of citizens. In South Africa, we are especially aware of the issues of constrained electricity, but this is a global issue. By connecting devices to a smart grid, it’s possible to reduce electricity consumption by turning off non-essential equipment automatically at times of peak demand while keeping essential services online,” he comments. “Just imagine the impact of being able to keep all the traffic lights on during load-shedding, or even only the traffic lights that have an impact on overall traffic flow. With a smart grid, combined with smart traffic monitoring systems, this would be possible.”

While much of this still seems like science fiction, the roll-out of 5G networks is critical to making it happen. The current mobile networks simply don’t have the capacity to enable these kinds of applications.

“In order to deliver on the potential that 5G offers, it’s vital that regulators move quickly to license the necessary spectrum. At the moment, operators across the world are looking for ways to get their 5G networks up and running while they wait for spectrum to be made available,” Nel says.

“While the benefit of previous generations of mobile technologies was primarily felt in the consumer and business sectors, 5G has the ability to give governments the ability to fundamentally improve service delivery, spotting problems before they become evident and allocating resources to remedy them. Getting spectrum to facilitate the deployment of 5G networks is the first step to making this happen,” he concludes.