MARKET COMMENTARY

What is 5G All About?

Looking beyond the Huawei controversy, we highlight the basics and potential of the next generation of cellular wireless—think remote surgery.

03.26.2020 - Kevin McLachlan, Vice President, Portfolio Manager

Watching the news lately, you’ve likely heard a lot about the upcoming arrival of 5G and the controversy over whether companies such as China’s tech giant, Huawei, should be allowed to build 5G networks in Canada. But, what is 5G exactly and what are its possibilities?

The acronym “5G” refers to fifth-generation cellular wireless and it’s the newest generation of that particular technology. Most previous generations have been defined by their data transmission speeds and different encoding methods, which made each new generation incompatible with previous ones. For instance, 1G brought us analog cellular, 2G technologies were the first generation of digital cellular, while 3G and 4G technologies delivered greater speeds.1

While the promise of 5G over previous generations is certainly much greater speed (moving more data, faster), it’s also about much quicker responsiveness (eliminating lag time) and the ability to connect many more devices at once. The 5G networks could be approximately 100 times faster than a typical cellular connection and 10 times faster than high-speed home Internet service.2 Now, this won’t happen overnight as we’ll need to see significant investment in the upgrading of current cellular and wireless infrastructure. And we consumers will need new devices, such as 5G-capable phones.

If the projected speed and responsiveness are achieved, more mundane tasks (like the ability to download a season of Stranger Things in seconds) will become easier and more efficient. It will also mean 5G can become an enabling technology, sparking major advances in things like self-driving cars, virtual/augmented reality and telemedicine services such as remote surgery.

Let’s look at remote surgery as an example. We know one of the major 5G benefits is its responsiveness, or the short lag time between a device pinging the network and receiving a response. Even with 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution, a 4G wireless communications standard) there’s a lag, although it’s not necessarily noticeable. A 5G network virtually eliminates lag time, which means, in future, a surgeon might not need to be in the operating room while working with a patient.

An example of this concept was demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress in 2017.3 Telecommunications company Ericsson, working with startup NeuroDigital Technologies and doctors at King’s College London, used a dummy patient to demonstrate how a surgeon could operate, using a virtual reality headset and special glove to control a robot arm in another location. The glove was fitted with haptic feedback motors that buzzed when one touched the dummy’s organ, giving the sensation of actual touch.

The 5G networks could be approximately 100 times faster than a typical cellular connection..."

This is but one example of the full potential of 5G networks, but it will surely take time for these types of goals to be achieved. We could also see other major developments emerge—concepts that no one has even thought of yet. This simple number/ letter combination could usher in a whole new era, with major implications for business and society. Expect to hear a lot more about 5G in the times ahead.

 

 

 

 

1. Sascha Segan,“What Is 5G?” PC Magazine, October 31, 2019, https://www.pcmag.com.

2. Roger Cheng,“The 5G wireless revolution explained,” CNET, October 27, 2019, https://www.cnet.com.

3. Roger Cheng, “Not just speed: 7 incredible things you can do with 5G,” CNET, March 2, 2017, https://www.cnet.com.

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