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From holographic calls to connected cranes - why 5G was the talk of the town at IoTSWC18

Phil Skipper

Phil Skipper

Head of Strategy, Vodafone Business IoT

There was an electric atmosphere at IoT Solutions World Congress 2018, which took place in Barcelona last week. The halls buzzed with an audible sense of excitement as exhibitors and visitors shared their experiences of connected solutions across a truly diverse range of sectors.

On the Vodafone booth we showed how our customers are applying the Internet of Things (IoT) in increasingly innovative ways. From pet tracking to pest control, patient monitoring to crop management, IoT has moved from the margins to the mainstream and is impacting every aspect of our lives.

IoTSWC 2018 was also a great opportunity to take a look into the future and assess technology trends. And it was the transition from 4G to 5G that had everyone talking. This journey, it was clear, will be an evolutionary progression as we move seamlessly from 4G to 4G+ and on to 5G. We are not there yet, but the building blocks are already in place.

So why was 5G creating such a buzz at IoTSWC 2018? Firstly, it is all about scale. 5G will bring about a huge increase in bandwidth and a greater density of connections so it can support massive IoT with billions of connected devices.

5G also incorporates the capacity of existing low-power wide area networks like Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), allowing it to access applications requiring low power but deep penetration. So, we can connect almost anything, anywhere. NB-IoT is already available and can be seen as part of the road map to 5G. Indeed, 4G and NB-IoT are already driving massive efficiencies. What 5G does is complete the connectivity portfolio for high- and low-bandwidth services.

The second major evolution in 5G is the addition of low latency and high bandwidth, allowing the delivery of new fast and more responsive services. These capabilities were shown in remarkable fashion last month when Vodafone conducted the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G technology. The call took place between England and Manchester City Women’s Football Captain, Steph Houghton, and 11-year-old Manchester City and Lionesses fan, Iris, who were in different locations more than 260 kilometres apart.

You can probably see the opportunities for remote sports coaching and bringing sports fans closer to their idols. But what about the world of work?

In digital industry, processes will be changing and reconfiguring more rapidly, machines will become more complex, and data and analytics will grow exponentially. Having the ability to render information in three dimensions, to overlay the physical asset with a live information “skin”, will provide operators and managers with the tools to rapidly understand the working environment and intervene accurately, quickly and safely.  

The technology can revolutionise training and certification and provide new platforms for collaboration across an ever expanding IoT eco system.

The powerful combination of low latency and high bandwidth delivered by 5G will open up huge business opportunities where speed and bandwidth are paramount.

But the biggest change for IoT comes when you add quality of service to low latency and high bandwidth. Now the network becomes capable of not just transferring data but of taking control of remote devices. 5G for IoT takes the network from data to control with the ability to control devices in a way never possible before.

So it’s not surprising that almost all the 5G use cases being talked about at IoTSWC 2018 concerned control; whether that be autonomous driving, drones, building management, or construction equipment.

Vodafone’s connected crane is a case in point. Low latency and real-time information allow full remote control of construction machines. So cranes located in different cities could be controlled by one operator, even though that person might be sat hundreds of kilometres away from the construction site. This sort of 5G-enabled teleoperation solution represents a really different way of working that can generate significant benefits to the construction sector.

Recent trials of this technology in Germany proved the art of the possible, with remote control of a 200-tonne crane whose boom was used to lift and lower a shipping container. The crane was located in Aldenhoven in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, while the operatives were based more than 350 kilometres away. The trials represented the seamless combination of hardware and software, providing truly accurate and responsive remote control.

It’s clear that 5G will enable some truly exciting possibilities in the world of IoT – not only in the field of construction, but also in areas such as transport, agriculture, education, retail, healthcare and more. The challenge for business is to be clear about the potential of 5G and to start planning for its arrival now. That means looking at what 4G and NB-IoT can already deliver and considering how 5G could enable new digital operations in the future.

The future is just around the corner, so take advantage of today’s capabilities for 4G and NB-IoT but engage early with trusted partners and advisors such as Vodafone to understand how you can take advantage of the evolution of 5G.

5G is a watershed moment for connectivity. And preparation for its arrival will help maximise its astonishing potential.

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