5G will change your business faster than you think
Not that I’m a big fan of such titles, but when I look at what 5G will bring, it’s clear most businesses will feel the impact.
Most technologies have a slow adoption curve. 5G though will go quicker due to the geopolitical implications surrounding it. This change of speed is going to catch most companies unaware. The technological improvements of better connectivity are apparent, but their consequences aren’t.
There are two big groups of problems that 5G’s lower latency and high bandwidth will impact. On one side, we have those problems that we can solve with low computation and real-time responses. Think of any remote controller. There is minor computation needs on the controller side but needs fast reactions on the remoter actuator.
On the other side, we have problems with high computation and real-time responses. Any autonomous system fits the bill. They need things like fast image processing and immediate remote feedback.
Gaming is just but one of the apparent industries that 5G will affect. In 2018, mobile gaming accounted for more than half of the revenues of the market. Lower latencies mean that anyone (with a smartphone) can play real-time from anywhere. Higher accessibility means increased, and more diverse players are flocking the industry.
Taking into account the explosive growth of games like Fortnite, this premise isn’t a small one. 5G won’t just enable gamers, but also increased viewers of those games.
Such improvements are useful, but small compared to potential business model changes. One that’s already in the making is the emergence of subscription-based gaming services. That is the rise of the Netflix for games model.
While the idea has been floating for a while (Sony launched PlayStation Now in 2014), the amount of companies trying to offer such services is staggering. From Microsoft’s Project xCloud to NVIDIA’s Geforce Now, Google’s Project Stream or Amazon are competing for a piece of the pie.
Why it matters: Most companies have already deployed strategic cloud assets that enable them to provide powerful streaming solutions worldwide. 5G is the final piece of the puzzle, allowing gamers to connect and stream games anywhere. Building such infrastructure takes time. Anyone waiting for 5G to be widespread before initiating this will arrive late to the party.
It’s worth mentioning that game streaming is but one side of the story. Many bandwidth-demanding applications could benefit from this. Things like video, photo or 3D editor apps will become fully streamable. Such app streaming will allow mobile users to edit anything from anywhere.
Another visible industry is the medical one. Telemedicine has become disruptive for many hospitals. However, certain areas of the field haven’t been fully developed due to latency problems.
Being able to manipulate something remotely, during telesurgery, for example, entails both, high bandwidth and low latency.
As long as both doctor and patient don’t move, wifi and fiber optic connections should suffice. Nonetheless, in most circumstances, neither doctor nor patient is static. 5G bridges this gap, allowing high mobility for both of them. It uproots the problem and provides for ubiquitous remote care.
The big picture: Bringing low latency to mobile medical devices is also a game changer. Not long ago, I argued how disruptive Apple’s Series 4 Smartwatch could be. An increasing pool of predictive wearable medical devices paired with low latency transmissions could translate to a new paradigm of real-time medical care. Better response means fewer patients physically going to primary care units. The impact will be massive. Power will move towards those that own the integration point with the patient. In this case, organizations like Apple.
5G will also have significant ramifications in the field of robotics. We’re fast approaching a world that’s transitioning from dummy to semi or fully autonomous robots.
Many of these semi-autonomous machines, require remote-handling mechanisms. To keep latency to a minimum, most of these robots need to stick to local networks, reducing their mobility and flexibility.
With 5G deployments, we’ll be able to control remote robots in real-time. Robots that don’t need to stick to their local network anymore. Again, low latency allows for robots to be deployed in contexts and backgrounds that we can’t now. The Avatar dream will finally become real.
While this might feel like science fiction to many, Japan has a strategic plan around this already. There is an increasing need to cover human tasks with robots. The problem is, for such robots to be autonomous, they need access to real-time data feeds from the middle of the countryside. 5G will allow the deployment of robotic armies in the field.
A particular case of this could be drone controllers. Two important factors limit commercial drones. The first one is the battery life; the other is radio frequency controlling range. 5G’s low latency-high bandwidth will eradicate one of these roadblocks. It will enable the deployment of commercial drones without the need to be nearby.
Why it matters: While this might feel like a luxury, it has important implications for human safety, privacy, and surveillance. Being able to deploy and control a non-human robot, let it be air or ground-based, adds a layer of indirection. Such indirections have important ethical consequences, as many military drone pilots have admonished.
Proprietary Cloud Infrastructures
As stated before, problems requiring high computational resources and low latency will also enjoy the arrival of 5G. In general, these problems need large amounts of data for their computations. Sending such volumes of information over the wire is, in most cases, prohibitive under the current technology.
This issue has given rise to what’s called Edge Computing. Instead of sending all the data for crunching in the cloud, the ‘edge’ devices, that is, those dubbing as sensors will run local computations too. This reduces the data sent back to the cloud and creates a sort of computational distributed network. The drawback though, is that the edge devices are more expensive and complicated.
The 5G combo will transform the problem. It will be possible to send large data swaths to be processed in the cloud and retrieve the calculated solutions in real-time.
Be Smart: In a nutshell, any company requiring high computational resources to achieve a task will see the nature of their problem changed. 5G will allow for a dislocation of the physical computational resources, lowering the cost and increasing the potential user base of that solution. Get ready for an increase of private corporate clouds all across the geography.
The poster-boy for this is Virtual Reality (VR) applications. As I’ve stated before, VR is still far from being mainstream. One of the underlying problems is the need for a cord and a powerful computer.
Both of these problems will be solved by 5G technology. VR will be able to stream all its content back and forth the mobile headset without any latency problems. On top of that, it won’t require a local computer for rendering purposes. The headset will stream content from the cloud directly, without any need for local resources.
Non surprisingly, HTC announced a ‘cloud-based virtual reality’ recently. Players like AT&T or Qualcomm are announcing 5G enabled virtual reality devices too.
The bottom line: The cutting of the cord and the displacement of local computational power to the cloud will finally unlock the VR industry.
Not only will this change affect VR. Augmented Reality (AR) will also achieve momentum. I am not a big believer in AR for the day to day consumer. There are nice use cases around gaming or tourism, but on average, I don’t believe the killer application will be found there.
I feel AR will find its perfect fit in more specific business contexts like Industrial settings, or even collaboration tools for remote teams. For those cases, low latency and high bandwidth will turn the experience in its head.
Autonomous Vehicles (AV) is another clear winner of a 5G rollout. Currently, most vehicles relay on pre-trained computational models. Some incorporate powerful onboard computers. Others still operate with a human on the chair, for emergencies.
5G’s low latency will allow for more companies opting for remote human operators, speeding up the adoption of AVs. The increased bandwidth will also enable new modes of computation that are now unrealistic.
Imagine, real-time computational training of the driving algorithms, advanced predictive driving or traffic models, car to car communication, etc. In all honesty, I think we’re still far from seeing many of these things, 5G or not.
Be Smart: There is one market though that might benefit from the rollout of 5G. That’s the 3D mapping industry for AVs. There is an increasing number of startups specializing in mapping different aspects of our reality. These models are being turned into data layers for autonomous driving algorithms. The more data points the algorithm has, the better the predictions will be. 5G is crucial for the growth of such mapping companies, as it will facilitate the real-time use of such assets.
It’s also worth considering the potential limitations of AVs beyond the big urban centers. If, as predicted, 5G will go hand in hand with autonomous vehicles, the range of operation will be pretty limiting.
Currently, high power 5G coverage requires more antennas than its 4G predecessor. It’s unlikely that 5G coverage outside of densely populated areas will happen as quick. This will limit any advanced autonomous driving features obtained with the deployment of 5G in the countryside. Will autonomous trucks take advantage of 5G or will they make use of microsatellite networks?
Surveillance and state defense
One of the scariest scenarios, along with autonomous weapons, is the rise of the Control State. The improvements on image recognition algorithms, objects and face tracking and the blanketing of most cities with high definition cameras in the name of security, is turning Orwell’s dream into reality.
One of the limiting factors of real-time facial tracking is computational speed and data transfers. The deployment of 5G networks will accelerate the feasibility of large scale recognition and monitoring of individuals.
It’s not surprising that China is pushing hard on this front or that companies like SenseTime are already integrating Qualcomm’s new 5G chipset in its products.
The bottom line: As more sensing devices connect to the 5G network, our already maimed privacy will be completely wiped out. I expect a nascent industry that will help individuals retain their privacy. Things like 5G disruptors, face obfuscators or similar will hit the market soon.
Beyond the security implications, being able to obtain high definition images, send them to the cloud for processing and getting the results in real-time will change many industries.
Amazon Go’s cashier-less supermarket is an excellent example of how such technology can also be put to better uses. Being able to do object image recognition and tracking in real-time anywhere will create a whole new startup industry around it.
Microsatellites and GIS
As I mentioned before, 3D mapping is an industry that will benefit from 5G. The same will happen for GIS and microsatellite companies. For the past few years, we’ve seen a drastic increase in microsatellite companies. Many of the first constellations are up and running in low orbit. The market though has been slow to pick up.
One of the most significant limiting factors of the use of satellite cartography and space imagery is how expensive it is to move so much data in real-time. This restricts the real-time use of such feeds in different environments.
The deployment of 5G in certain areas will accelerate the use of such GIS in many different industries like mining, commerce or Agrotech verticals.
“Satellite tracking is giving traders near real-time data on where oil supplies are located, how much there is, and how long it will take to arrive. This means they can respond much more quickly to sudden shifts in price and demand.”Tracking sanctions-busting ships on the high seas. BBC News. Feb. 2019
Accelerated Internet Of Things deployment
As much as I hate the term IoT, the truth is that it’s a trend that is accelerating every year. I hate it, not because I don’t believe in it, but because of how vacuous the term is. However, every year, the number of connected devices in my home multiply. It’s hard not to pay attention to it.
These devices though, are not bonded to our homes anymore. With each passing day, we carry more and more devices with us. These wearables though tend to be low powered and data constrained.
As 5G rolls out, we’re going to experiment a new crop of new connected mobile devices with high bandwidth capabilities. The easiest one is the proliferation of mobile HD-video devices, but we’ll see all kind of data-hungry new gizmos.
Why it matters: As I’ve mentioned before, as it stands today, more data means less privacy. The higher the definition of our sensors, the more they’ll pick. The faster the networks, the more real-time computation we can achieve. More calculation means better prediction in real-time. So, beyond the privacy issues, more devices will imply a growth of cloud infrastructure. More companies will start to run their own cloud operations to support their device’s needs.
There is another area that will experience a significant impact, and that’s the applications for Industrial IoT (IIoT). So far, trying to connect traditional factories has been slow (very) and painful. It’s not only hard to deal with legacy machines, but digital culture isn’t there.
Now, as manufacturing starts getting disrupted in China, more countries will begin to take on their own manufacturing. These new factories need to keep costs down, as they won’t have access to cheap labor as before.
To achieve this low-cost profile, manufacturing facilities will increase the number of robots they employ. 5G will be integral to the next generation of factories. Ubiquitous, wireless and low latency connectivity will enable factories to become extremely versatile. Operators will be able to reconfigure the machines so a single facility can manufacture many different products.
Go Deeper: Most next-generation factories will skip an innovation step and will directly adopt 5G connected machines, instead of retrofitting their old ones. As more connected manufacturing plants go online, the need for robotic-clouds will increase. Private clouds will deliver many high-end support functions, so expect a rise of the robotic cloud soon.
5G Security Risks
While 5G brings significant improvements, it also introduces massive security risks. As always, cybersecurity seems to be the pending subject for many organizations. 5G isn’t any different.
However, the risks that 5G expose will be huge. The capacity to connect more devices per cell tower will accelerate the deployment of IoT networks. Those networks though will exponentially increase the attack surface of any organization. Cyber attacks are getting more sophisticated and automated. Deploying big swarms of dumb connected devices will turn the fight into a nightmare.
Many of the so-called edge devices are poorly secured. Most use basic authentication methods. As 5G rolls out, these dumb devices will become weapons at the hacker’s disposal. Their status as dumb devices will turn them irrelevant in the eyes of most operators. Big swarms of dumb devices, enhanced by 5G, will result in powerful weapons of disruption.
“This bill, beginning on January 1, 2020, would require a manufacturer of a connected device, as those terms are defined, to equip the device with a reasonable security feature or features that are appropriate to the nature and function of the device, appropriate to the information it may collect, contain, or transmit, and designed to protect the device and any information contained therein from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure, as specified.”First State Internet of Things Bill in the US – Senate Bill No. 327
Many organizations are still vulnerable to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. 5G-enabled attacks will make DDoS look like child’s play. Currently, there are no methods to protect infrastructure from such 5G powered attacks. The fact that the geopolitical agenda is hurrying the deployment of the network will ensure many security loopholes.
Be smart: Cybersecurity isn’t optional anymore. Before deploying many connected devices, make sure your organization invests in proactive cybersecurity measures. Denial of Service attacks will become more common, so plan for service disruptions and data poisoning attacks.
Everyone is buzzing with 5G, and with good reason. As I highlighted in the last post, 5G deployment will take longer than it’s predicted, but it will also go faster than what skeptics are saying.
Such speed will create exciting opportunities for many industries. What’s important to understand is that the major change will come in the form of computational resources displacement.
Many of the dumb devices we have now will start transmitting large amounts of data. Not only that, they’ll be able to do that in quasi-real-time.
Many companies will need to build distributed cloud facilities if they want to take full advantage of 5G and what it will provide. Planning, investing and integrating such infrastructure into an organization, takes time and expertise. Those that wait until 5G is fully developed will miss the boat.
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