Fifth Generation, or 5G, communications networks have become a buzzword of late. 5G refers to the next generation of mobile internet connectivity that offers faster speeds and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices than current 4G networks. Essentially, 5G entails making better use of the radio spectrum and enabling far more devices to access the mobile internet at the same time.
Thanks to cutting-edge network technology, 5G should offer connections that are many times faster than current connections, with average download speeds of around 1GBps expected to be the standard soon. 5G networks are envisioned to play an instrumental role in the mass adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) technology, providing the infrastructure needed to move huge amounts of data and allowing for a smarter and more connected world.
5G networks are expected to launch across the world by 2020, working alongside existing 3G and 4G technology to provide faster connections that stay online no matter where the user or device is. The US, China and South Korea are expected to be some of the first countries to install full 5G networks, and many companies are busy preparing their networks and devices for 5G in time for 2020. Lauching ahead of schedule, South Korea three telecom providers and United States top telco, Verizon Communications, has commercially launched 5G services on 3 April while, Qatar’s Ooredoo is the first in the world to have launched the 5G commercial service in May 2018.
Live, Work and Play 5G
The wide-ranging potential of 5G technology means it will change the way we live, work and play. Smartphones have become an indispensable part of our lifestyles. With 5G, the myriad applications of smartphones will be faster and better. For instance, mobile videos should be near instantaneous and glitch-free, while video calls should become clearer and smoother.
Beyond that, 5G opens up possibilities for smart glasses featuring augmented reality and mobile virtual reality. In addition, wearable fitness devices could monitor a user’s health in real-time and alert doctors as soon as an emergency is detected via biosensors. A network of 5G-powered sensors and cameras on the road will be integral for the movement of autonomous vehicles and ‘live’ analysis of maps and traffic data.
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5G looks set to augment and even transform numerous industries. In manufacturing, 5G is tied to the mission-critical concept of factory automation, where different processes must take place within extremely tight time frames to ensure optimal production so that revenue is not lost. 5G will also enable capabilities like real-time production inspection and assembly line maintenance.
In healthcare, 5G will allow the performing of remote tele-surgeries and patient monitoring, giving doctors the ability to provide care from afar and widening healthcare access to populations with little or no access to healthcare. 5G could also augment the application of virtual reality and augmented reality for more training of medical professionals worldwide.
In the energy sector, oil, gas, electricity and other critical infrastructure will be better connected through 5G. These industries have a lot of infrastructure that are not connected due to their remote location, meaning it may cost too much to construct a transmission line that is hundreds of kilometres away. 5G networks will enable the remote monitoring of infrastructure such as transmission towers. The increased flow of data within the energy grid will also translate to more efficient generation and consumption of power.
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Given its wide-ranging ability to change the way the world lives, works and plays, 5G technology has taken on a political dimension as the world’s two major geopolitical powers – the US and China – compete to influence the development and implementation of 5G.
5G technology applications are likely to fuel the future of smart cities and digital economies, predicted to be the next key driver of economic growth in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0, a term coined by Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum. As such, the major power that gains a first-mover advantage in addressing the various technological, political and policy challenges, and successfully deploys the 5G network is likely to gain a strategic economic edge over the other. Viewed from the American or Chinese perspective, this makes 5G implementation a zero-sum geo-economic game rather than a win-win situation where technological advancements and solutions are shared for mutual gain. The stakes are extremely high, to say the least.
The geo-economic stakes also apply to other states at the periphery of the two major powers. Whichever of the US or China successfully deploys 5G can lay claim to its model being emulated in other countries, and thus exert political, economic and technological influence over these countries. 5G has the potential to be the next leverage tool that the US and China can wield in the great power competition as they continue their pursuit of gaining as much global influence as each can.
The US-China competition over technology reached a peak in recent months as the Trump administration signed a bill banning government use of Huawei and ZTE technology due to national security concerns. The US has also urged its allies and partners internationally to follow suit.
Image Credit: Axios
Impact on Singapore?
5G services in Singapore are expected to be available only after 2020, with 5G standards expected to be firmed up at the World Radiocommunication Conference in October this year. Analysts say that the pushback against Huawei will have little impact on telcos in the Singapore market.
That said, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the government regulator, has said that telcos are encouraged to “ensure vendor diversity to mitigate risks (including cyber-security risks) from dependency on any one vendor”. Singapore’s three major telcos – Singtel, StarHub and M1 – have in turn said that they are working with multiple vendors and not just Huawei in building their 5G networks.
Furthermore, telcos in Singapore plan to conduct intensive trials related to 5G applications this year involving autonomous vehicles, drones and IoT devices. To further encourage the development of 5G networks in Singapore, the IMDA, which first waived airwave fees for 5G trials in May 2017, will extend the waiver until the end of 2019.
Moving forward, It remains to be seen if the geopolitical rivalry between the US and China will have an adverse impact on the development and rollout of 5G networks in Singapore. It should be hoped that 5G stakeholders in Singapore would have access to and be able to partner the best 5G players in the global market, regardless of where they are from, so that 5G technology can fulfil the massive potential it has.