One of the biggest expectations of the coming 5G network is that it will make possible a proliferation of the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Although IoT has been around for a while in some form, many of its most exciting features have been awaiting an infrastructure that is sufficiently fast to support them in the way they are meant to be used. 5G will most certainly improve many activities – such as web surfing, video calls, high-definition media streaming, and use of cloud-based services – that are already common on wireless networks, but most of the truly life-changing advances will be in how 5G devices communicate with each other in the IoT. Aside from faster transfer speeds, the super low latency of 5G is expected to make things possible that have so far just been largely theoretical.
Autonomous Vehicles and City Infrastructure
Perhaps at the top of the list of anticipated 5G game-changers is in the area of self-driving cars. Far from being simply a convenience for motorists, autonomous vehicles are expected to improve both public safety and traffic flow. Not only will 5G-enabled self-driving vehicles communicate with each other, but also with traffic signals, various sensors on the roadway, special aerial traffic drones, and other supporting equipment designed to prevent collisions while maintaining the orderly flow of traffic. This will only be practical with the multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), constant connection, low-latency communication that 5G is designed to provide.
In addition to aiding traffic flow and reducing vehicular fatalities, it is hoped that 5G will contribute to improving the efficiency of cities by connecting other infrastructure as well. Usage of municipal utilities like electricity, water, and natural gas will be able to be monitored remotely and connected to other sensors, allowing for proactive prevention or swift reaction to outages, floods, and natural disasters.
Machinery and Automation
Factory automation should take a huge leap with 5G. The next generation of manufacturing automation and robotics will benefit from improved connectivity. Factory robots and machinery in constant communication with each other in real time, combined with intelligent algorithms, should increase manufacturing output and efficiency. In addition, heavy machinery – especially those in areas that would be difficult or hazardous to humans – could be operated remotely in ways never before possible with the low latency of 5G. Virtual reality (VR) interfaces will be aid in more intuitive human control of machinery, drones, and remote vehicles.
Health and Medicine
Telemedicine, including remote diagnosis, assessment, and consultation of patients, is an emerging field that should gain greater steam as 5G IoT medical devices emerge. This is something that can have the potential for global impact as specialists would be able to interact in a meaningful way with patients across the globe – especially in areas where those specialties may not be available otherwise. Other remote medical services could include physical therapy and remote robotic surgeries using VR and augmented reality (AR). Inside hospitals, dense networks of 5G sensors can help monitor patient vital signs and also track their compliance with physician orders and prescriptions.
Most of the above 5G applications are still in the early stages of development, and it remains to be seen just how many of them actually come to fruition. Whether and how these changes come about will largely depend on the rollout schedule of the 5G network, the availability of 5G-enabled devices, and consumer demand.