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5G’s importance for smart cities has been underplayed

Everyone talks about 5G hype but Kevin Hasley RootMetrics & IHS Markit argues that the importance of 5G to connected communities and smart city success has been underplayed.

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We’re entering the age of connected communities. Whether at home, at work or on the go, a strong and consistent network connection has become a necessity rather than a luxury. As smart cities become a reality, both enterprise and consumers will need even greater network reliability and faster speeds than that are available today.

 

Certainly, technologies like NB-IoT and LoRa have a role to play in our connected lives and are helping create a pathway to the future. But as the connected community continues to develop, no single technology will be able to meet all demands, at all times. This is why 5G remains so critical to the future growth of smart cities: delivering fast speeds, increased capacity and incredibly low latency, 5G will play a fundamental role in the infrastructure needed to support our increasingly connected lives.

 

Why 5G is critical to smart city success

 

The connected community will be underpinned by countless sensors and devices. From an expansion of emerging uses like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to mission-critical applications that require near-universal reliability and ultra-low latency to supporting monitoring sensors that will fuel the growth of massive IoT, the sheer quantity of connections that need to be supported is staggering.

 

5G will play a key role in expanding capacity and keeping this web of connections running smoothly and effectively.

 

Initially, 5G will help power the growth of enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and fixed wireless access (FWA) by providing the capacity for peak data rates both at home and on the go.

 

Live streaming of media, for instance, is expected to continue to expand rapidly moving forward. As speeds and latency continue to improve, 5G will provide a network backbone for additional applications at the heart of smart cities.

 

It is the 5G network as much as the sensors, software and hardware that will power truly responsive and awake smart cities.

 

To take only one use case, consider how 5G might help support smarter transportation and safer roads. Real-time data showing what’s ahead on the road will help autonomous transportation systems, while vehicle-to-everything (V2X) will provide a basis for cars to communicate with each other and automated monitoring of spikes in air pollutants could lead to smart road closures and diversions that keep air quality at safe levels – if the data is processed in real time.

 

Health services have also become more trusting of new technologies, given their ability to detect underlying illnesses much quicker than medical professionals. A far more competent application supported with 5G may well benefit health services, particularly as advancements in remote care and even surgery develop.

 

The number of smart city applications possible continues to grow and at times seems limited only by the imagination. But it is the 5G network as much as the sensors, software and hardware that will power truly responsive and awake smart cities.

 

Infrastructure adoption rates vary dramatically

 

Surprisingly, many major cities across the European and American landscape are yet to deploy 5G, although across the eastern hemisphere significant progress has been made. In South Korea, for example, LG alone has thousands of 5G base stations in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi – nearly 11,000 were planned by the end of last year. And in Japan, the major operators are all planning to roll out initial 5G deployments this year.

 

In China, proactive government support and industrial capital investments have helped ease the integration of 5G. China’s 5G research and development, moreover, is providing other countries with a template that will lead to quicker implementation of 5G.

 

The consistent use of 5G-enabled applications will mean the smart city of the future will be easily embedded and best practices can be shared.

 

The consistent use of 5G-enabled applications will mean the smart city of the future will be easily embedded and best practices can be shared.

 

In the UK, 5G test-beds have begun operations and the UK’s network operators have outlined their 5G plans (EE looks to be first to market, promising initial coverage in 16 UK cities this year, while Vodafone, O2 and Three have promised rollout in 2020). However, early successes in Asia have put European markets behind the curve.

 

Ensuring the right underpinning infrastructure is implemented both quickly and successfully is an enormously complex challenge.

 

What’s the impact on smart cities?

 

Exceptional connectivity and truly smart cities are intrinsically intertwined. Falling behind in network capability can mean that while other cities are able to increase productivity and improve the health and quality of life of citizens, cities that aren’t as connected won’t be able to keep pace.

 

This is not a trivial outcome: connectivity will be integral to successful city planning in the future.

 

Connectivity will be integral to successful city planning in the future.

 

Cities and national governments need to test and fully understand their 5G capabilities as soon as possible to ensure their communities can benefit from smart city applications. But they also need a public and private sector strategy detailing how they plan to compete. While the rollout of 4G was an important battleground, 5G is exponentially more so and even has the potential to shift the balance of economic power.

 

Without question, 5G brings enormous potential and will play a key role in the growth of smart cities. Varied adoption rates and differences in implementation and regulatory barriers, however, mean that there could be speed bumps on the path ahead.


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