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Forget 4G, 5G internet is the real game changer

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4G promised blazing mobile internet speeds, enabling us to do so much more with our mobile devices.

But before most of us could make use of Gs one to four, a fifth has arrived, and it means business.

Up to 10 times faster than 4G, a 5G connection could download an Ultra High Definition movie of 100GB in only two-and-a-half minutes. High-quality on-demand content means entertainment is just one area which would benefit from 5G.

Swedish transport firm Scania believes the rollout of 5G would enable its lorries to drive closer together, resulting in a reduction in fuel usage.

This technique of driving in a computer-controlled chain is called Platooning and utilises a wifi connection. Scania is working on the project with Ericsson.

“Platooning works very well with wifi, but in dense traffic situations with many vehicles communicating, 5G is designed to offer more reliable communication," Andreas Hoglund, Scania's senior engineer for intelligent transport systems, told the BBC.

"Faster communication will make it possible to reduce the distance between vehicles in the platoon, which might further reduce the air drag and give positive effects on fuel consumption," he explained.

A reduction in fuel consumption would not only save Scania money but would have a positive impact on reducing emissions.

The technology could also be hugely important as our road networks become populated with self-driving vehicles.

Much like Scania's lorries, autonomous vehicles would be able to drive safely in tightknit daisy chains thanks to the fast and reliable communication offered by 5G. Near real-time latency (the time it takes for data to begin transferring after a request is made) would allow self-driving cars to react to hazards without delay.

By reducing the gap between vehicles, road congestion should also be reduced, helping to cut the time a car spends on the road, which in turn will lower emissions.

5G’s promise of faster and more reliable mobile internet will also open up new possibilities for virtual reality and augmented reality experiences on mobile devices.

A high-end VR experience currently requires a headset tethered to a powerful computer.

Previously limited by the processing power of mobile devices, complex VR and AR will now be able to rely on cloud computing to crunch the numbers, knowing that 5G is fast and reliable enough to deliver a real-time experience.

The extremely low latency of 5G also opens up a range of remote healthcare possibilities.

Richard Scott, the Innovation Manager at Brighton-based innovation hub Digital Catapult, believes 5G can transform VR.

“If you have a very detailed, immersive VR experience and you try to run it over a mobile headset currently, there is enough latency... that it makes you feel sick," he explained to the BBC.

He added that 5G would "enable you to have an experience comparable with home gaming on your mobile".

Some real-world examples could include an augmented reality car windscreen, which alerts drivers to potential hazards thus reducing accidents and insurance claims.

Another example could see help for drivers who break down at the roadside. An augmented reality repair app would overlay basic instructions such as how to check your engine oil and coolant, or where to put the jack when changing a tyre. Basic car mechanics could also be taught using VR. All this has the potential to prevent the need to send a recovery agent to the scene.

On the claims side of the insurance business, field agents could quickly assess damage using an augmented reality overlay of the car, giving precise measurements of the damaged areas. The result could be a faster turnaround for claims, thus improving the customer experience.

Similar tools could also be passed on to the customer, potentially removing the need for agents to assess the damage.

The extremely low latency of 5G also opens up a range of remote healthcare possibilities brought about by the Tactile Internet.

A project at King’s College in London makes use of haptic feedback (the simulated feeling of touching something) and virtual reality to enable a doctor to operate on a remote patient. Robotic arms carry out the procedure by mimicking the actions of the surgeon. At the same time, sensors on the robotic arms capture the necessary data to provide haptic feedback to the surgeon.

While remote healthcare and robotic surgeries aren’t themselves new technology, life-critical reaction times required of the remote surgeon are only possible thanks to 5G.

Prototype remote surgery at King’s College.

Ericsson states that remote surgery using existing networks “vastly exceeds the safe reaction time” of under ten milliseconds. With 5G, the haptic feedback to a doctor is almost real-time.

It’s clear that 5G has the potential to improve our lives in many ways. If none of that takes off, let’s hope it can at least hold a signal when travelling through a tunnel.