How 5G will enable innovation across sectors

‘New 5G features are expected to become the catalyst for the creation of an innovation ecosystem’
Dr Colin Willcock, Chairman, 5G Infrastructure Association
By Dr Colin Willcock, Chairman, 5G Infrastructure Association

In a world which increasingly seems to focus on what is new, even when new doesn’t necessarily mean better, it is worth reminding ourselves why 5G networks are really different from their predecessors.

For the typical end-user, for example a teenager with a smartphone, a mobile network is judged simply by communication speed and coverage. Others may also keep an eye on other parameters such as transmission reliability or communication delay.

Based on these criteria, 5G does not appear to be a game-changer. Yes, it is significantly faster and it certainly can support lower latency, but if we look only at those aspects, 5G just appears to be a logical progression from 4G, rather than a revolution.

However, 5G has not only been designed for downloading music or videos faster. The new aspect and the big promise of 5G technology is that it will allow the development of breakthrough solutions for the support of vertical industries, such as automotive, energy, food and agriculture, city management, healthcare, manufacturing and so on. This has potential to drastically change the way these sectors work.

5G’s real selling point is flexibility

In the context of the European 5G Public-Private Partnership (5G PPP) research initiative, scientists and researchers, in more than 60 projects, have worked hard to design, evaluate and validate solutions for 5G networks and vertical solutions enabled by 5G.

These highly innovative solutions enable services that will change our way of life, opening new business opportunities for Europe and creating new jobs across the vertical sectors. 

Examining some initial verticals’ requirements can create the impression these could, to some extent, be satisfied by existing networks such as 4G LTE (long-term evolution), which is of course a superb system in its own right.

Yet a key lesson learnt from the trials performed in the context of 5G PPP projects is the critical new capability that 5G networks provide is not necessarily communications speed and more reliable networks, but rather flexibility. 5G brings a significantly higher level of flexibility in the deployment and management of new services, which 4G networks cannot offer.

This flexibility is because the network components are no longer monolithic systems fine-tuned to serve a specific set of services, such as phone or video calls and accessing the internet. The network is now supported by multiple modular network functions that can be adapted to serve different verticals, chained together in multiple ways and placed much closer to the end-devices.

5G was designed to be more secure

While previous generation networks were designed for human-centric applications and other, vertical applications had to adapt to the network, 5G reverses this paradigm and now the network adapts to the service through network slicing.

This paradigm shift created by the introduction of 5G has enabled researchers to create innovative services, parts of which can be implemented over different sets of network functions, called network slices, which operate over the same hardware nodes.

Moreover, this flexibility has greatly reduced the time to deploy new applications and services where and when needed. This flexibility and speed of service deployment will be of upmost importance for the market success of both operators and service and application developers.

It is also worth noting that 5G networks are designed to be more secure than previous generations. This will prove to be a critical factor for the adoption of 5G networks from market sectors where security is of prime concern.

Overall, these new 5G features are expected to become the catalyst for the creation of an innovation ecosystem that will shape the full digitisation of vertical industries. From a technological perspective, it is safe to say the flexibility brought by 5G networks is creating a new and future-proof playground for service developers, which may lead to disruptive new solutions that cannot be easily predicted.