5G will Initiate a Digital Revolution in Manufacturing and Retail
By the end of 2019, all four major mobile operators in the UK will have launched 5G services. Every generational shift in mobile connectivity brings performance enhancements and greater speeds, but 5G is the most significant development yet.
The simplest explanation for 5G is that it is faster, has more capacity, and lower latency than 4G networks.
Speeds in excess of 1Gbps will be possible, while new spectrum – the airwaves used to transmit television, radio and mobile data - will ease congestion in urban areas and connect more devices. Low-level spectrum has longer range but lower capacity, while high-level spectrum has the opposite characteristics.
Meanwhile, mobile operators are completely rearchitecting their infrastructure to reduce the amount of time it takes for data to be transmitted across the network.
Consumers stand to benefit greatly from these improvements, but 5G is just as important for industry too. 5G is the first generation of mobile connectivity to be specifically designed not just to connect people but to connect machines to machines.
In many ways, manufacturing is the poster child for industrial 5G. The arrival of 5G connectivity is predicted to increase annual UK business revenues by up to £15.7 billion by 2025, according to a report by Barclays. Manufacturing will account for £2 billion of that growth.
5G will advance the concept of Industry 4.0 – a term used to describe an evolution that incorporates advanced communication and automation.
Industry 4.0 is enabled by a variety of technologies – including Big Data, robotics, and Mixed Reality – and sees industrial machines speak to each other and share data that can be used to make real-time, automated decisions.
The speed, capacity and ultra-low latency of 5G makes this concept a reality. 5G also allows for network slicing – the ringfencing of network capacity to ensure a minimum standard of connectivity – making it reliable enough for mission-critical systems.
And there is the possibility of using unlicensed spectrum or shared spectrum to create private networks.
With 5G, an organisation will be able to analyse customer, production and business data in real time, making on-the-fly adjustments to optimise processes and allow for personalised products and packaging.
A food manufacturer can personalise breakfast cereal depending on an individual customer’s tastes or a pharmaceutical firm can customise drugs depending on how a patient responds to treatment.
There are already real-world examples. A trial of a 5G factory in the UK is seeing how predictive maintenance and remote troubleshooting can drive efficiencies, while Nokia has virtualised its entire radio equipment factory to create a ‘Digital Twin’ based on real time data carried over a 5G network.
This means it can simulate changes to the factory without impacting production and can carry out training using Virtual Reality (VR).
Finally, 5G is set to transform logistics. The standard includes provisions for Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology that will allow manufacturers to monitor their supply chain and keep track of shipments.
5G is also set to accelerate the digital transformation of the retail sector. Through the adoption of omni-channel strategies, retailers can collect more information about customers in-store, online and on mobile.
This allows for data-driven decisions that increase efficiencies and revenues by giving customers an optimal and personalised experience.
Although 5G will have the indirect benefit of improving mobile shopping experiences, its main impact will be the increased collection and analysis of data. Part of this will be through new experiences that blur the lines between the physical and digital worlds.
For example, interactive signage will interrelate with user devices in real time to propose personalised offers, while applications will provide directions to certain items on the shelves.
The low-latency of 5G networks will also enable new types of digital experience on mobile. Because the small form factor of a mobile device means it is impossible to include the computational power required for Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) applications, processing must be done in the cloud.
However, the relatively high latency of existing mobile networks makes this difficult to do in real time – an obstacle solved by 5G. Such applications will also benefit from the speed and capacity enhancements of 5G as it will create a more reliable experience for consumers.
Examples of AR applications are IKEA’s furniture application, which lets users see how an item would look like in their home, and ASOS’s ‘Virtual Catwalk’ application, which lets people see a product on a model in their own surroundings.
Gartner predicts that 46% of retailers have plans to deploy AR or VR solutions and believes they can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty – even after a sale.
The possibilities for the manufacturing and retail sectors are numerous, but all industries can be transformed. The fields of health, logistics, education, and entertainment are just a few examples.
There’s no denying that 5G will bring a range of benefits to consumers in the form of superior mobile broadband, but it is businesses that stand to gain the most.
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