5G will soon be here, and it’s set to be an incredible step-change in how we do business. The kind of jump in mobile data speeds it will enable – a 6X leap at least, and up to 30X quicker for the very fastest connections - is roughly equivalent to the last decade of incremental improvements arriving all at once.
Consider what the last ten years brought us – Siri and Bixby, Netflix, Spotify, and Uber, to name a few – and how these have changed our behaviour, our lifestyle and our society as a whole. The mass spread of these types of innovations was made possible by mobile data; by more of it, at greater speeds. In this context, you begin to appreciate the scale of change set to roll out with 5G. Where will we see the next dramatic shifts?
Near real-time feedback
Beyond its fast data rate, a critical part of 5G’s appeal is its improved latency, or ‘ping’. Put very simply, if the download rate is like the size of a package being passed through a door, latency is how quickly the door opens after you knock.
Low latency is critical in the field of telehaptics, or computer-generated sensory feedback. Use cases include remote surgery where a human surgeon can get tactile feedback through their fingertips - for example understanding the precise texture of the tissue being severed - even though the actual cutting is being done far away via robot.
5G technology will be key to delivering such realistic simulated sense experiences. That’s because, with device latencies as low as one millisecond, 5G can send and receive sensory data so fast that the human brain - which typically operates about 80 milliseconds behind ‘reality’ - doesn’t notice the extra delay.
That could have benefits beyond the obvious. For example, in small countries like New Zealand, where we often have a shortage of niche surgical specialists, gaps could be filled by international experts ‘dialling in’ to perform operations that we would otherwise be unable to staff.
City traffic solved
Very low latency is also critical for driverless cars. We often think of them as single units, but 5G tech will also allow very fast-moving ‘trains’ of autonomous vehicles just centimetres apart, braking and accelerating in synchrony, thanks to the ultra-low latency between them. When the ‘two-second rule’ of following distance becomes more like the two-millisecond rule, will traffic jams become thing of the past?
Voice recognition requires grunty AI, which is why it all happens in the cloud rather than on your phone, smart watch or smart speaker - and tends to perform best when you’re on Wi-Fi. In a 5G future, however, voice processing can become ‘always on’, unlocking the huge power of voice biometrics and sentiment analysis
Devices will be listening and continually getting better at identifying emotions and meanings. With 5G, that nuanced, dynamic data can be parsed and transferred instantly, enabling marketers to deliver personalised, relevant messages to audiences in true real time. Want to engage people who are happy, tired, impulsive or celebratory right now? Voice data will make that possible.
5G will likely be what finally sets the much-talked-about Internet of Things revolution in motion. This will have perhaps the most dramatic effect on manufacturing. Robotic components with access to cloud-based AI processing will continually optimise factory work.
Joined-up AI-powered supply chains will allow super low-cost, hyper-bespoke products: this phone, with that processor but this camera lens and so on - all delivered without warehousing or retail mark-up. Basically, we can have a number of “dumb” machines doing the manufacturing, using one really smart AI brain.
Overall, this “Industry 4.0” scenario could even bring us closer to Jeremy Rifkin’s zeromarginal- cost economy, where the price of many products plummets to near zero. On the flip side, almost any business with a significant human labour component could see itself forced out by digital innovators.
But not entirely. In agriculture, for example, the IoT revolution could lead to improved insights and innovation for farmers. 5G-connected autonomous tractors and drones can provide a detailed analysis of weeds, soil and crops, as is already happening in the 5G Rural First project in the west of England. In the dairy industry, 5G connected sensors can give farmers crucial health data for each of their cows, and automatically customise their robotic milking mechanisms to suit.
What it means for business now
It’s clear that relentless change is becoming the new normal, and that this is an existential challenge for many companies. It’s a signal that we’re moving into an era of ‘survive and thrive’ transformation, where companies must learn to ready themselves – securely and at scale – for success both now and in a dynamic, unpredictable future.
The companies that manage this transformation will be those that market their current value proposition to the largest, most qualified audience they can reach. They’ll need digital tools to boost returns at the lowest possible cost, thereby freeing the capital and talent required to navigate a thrilling – and challenging – business future.
Darren Kirkland is the managing director of krunch.co, a digital marketing consultancy that combines data, technology and content to help New Zealand businesses thrive in an increasingly complex digital world.
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