Originally posted on wired.
The future of cellular communications goes way beyond smartphones
TO BUILD A truly transformative 5G wireless network, engineers have to picture the future. How might people, communities, and businesses use the new wireless platform? What if lives depend on it?
The trailblazers at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., the world’s leading wireless technology innovator, took an approach that went way beyond: “If you build it, they will come.” To create the new generation of wireless networks, they invented the technologies of the future that define it, working with a wide range of industries to make almost everything—from a mobile computing platform poised to revolutionize remote education to working models of wireless smart factories. Their inventions helped establish a 5G platform that will contribute to innovations for the next 10 years and beyond. “It’s a unifying connectivity fabric that’s going to connect virtually everything,” says John Smee, VP of Engineering, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
So, yes, 5G can make games download faster on your smartphone. However, it’s also designed to transform important aspects of your life—from the way your products are made and your food is grown to the way you access health care and learn. Here’s how:
5G combines lightning-fast speed with the ultra-low latency and high-reliability that were previously only offered by wired connections. It can efficiently connect a wide range of devices, from sensors and smartphones to robots and vehicles, without missing a beat, which promises exciting new experiences and better efficiency in virtually every use case around us.
Take education, for example. Qualcomm Technologies envisioned 5G to be a wireless platform that would “transform the educational experience by enabling more robust interactions and more personalized learning experiences,” Smee says. To fulfill this vision, they invented Boundless XR, a mobile computing platform that encompasses both augmented and virtual reality. By enhancing on-device processing with the edge cloud processing via a 5G connection, this new paradigm of computing can make learning more immersive, adaptive, and collaborative. Picture virtual field trips to historic sites, or group VR learning led by subject matter experts from around the globe.
5G IoT also intends to make teachers’ administrative workflow more efficient so they can focus on instructing their students. Always-Connected PCs* can relay each student’s progress to their teachers in near real time, so teachers can adapt the curriculum on an individual level.
In hospitals, IoT devices can monitor patient intake and volume to anticipate staffing needs and redirect resources to the busiest departments. Connected medicine dispensers could monitor daily prescriptions and remind patients to take them. The 5G-enabled hospital IoT will allow information to flow faster and more reliably, Smee says, improving operating efficiency and ultimately leading to a better level of care.
Manufacturing is also headed for a data-driven revolution. 5G can support wireless equipment that’s more easily reconfigurable, helping factories to improve agility and productivity. It can also allow factory owners to create a “digital twin,” or a replica of the physical plant. This will help enable predictive maintenance and ensure the plant is always operating at peak efficiency. “You’ll never have to take things offline,” Smee says. “It’s always running.”
5G can also deliver precise asset tracking and routing built to unlock the full potential of Just-in-Time manufacturing, a lean form of inventory management in which factories can track parts that are en route to the assembly line to help ensure the correct parts are received at the precise time they’re needed. This maximizes inventory utilization and efficiency.
It’s not hard to imagine how these abilities can also benefit agriculture, giving farmers who grow our food key insights to efficiently maximize production yields. 5G could connect sensors for remote analysis of virtually everything from soil quality to moisture to pest control, helping farmers determine the best times to plant and harvest, as well as water and fertilize more efficiently. 5G could also support autonomous harvesting and irrigation and remote troubleshooting. The information gathered through agricultural IoT can strengthen predictive modeling, leading to higher-quality crops and less waste.
Data culled through the 5G-enabled IoT can also make cities more energy efficient. Smart grids could connect for better coordinated production, distribution, and consumption of energy, detecting surges in use, for example, and sending surplus back to the grid. Scale up that connectedness to entire city infrastructures to imagine what is known as Smart Cities, making over everything from street lighting and parking meters to logistics and transportation. The end result could be greener cities and improved connectivity everywhere, including in underserved neighborhoods.
All of this is possible with a reliable, robust wireless network designed to support these innovations and lay the foundation for those yet to come. “At Qualcomm Technologies, our vision for the future of 5G is about improving performance, increasing efficiency, and connecting people and their devices to the world in unforeseen ways,” Smee says. “What excites me the most is how these use cases will continue to evolve well beyond what we’re able to imagine today.”
*Always-Connected PCs require network connection.
This story was produced by WIRED Brand Lab for Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.