"A key to understanding IoT is that it is not a technology revolution, but a customer experience revolution." - Andrew Penn, CEO of Telstra
Going for Gold
Next April, all eyes will be on Australia's Gold Coast as it hosts the 21st Commonwealth Games (GC2018).
According to the organisers, GC2018 will attract over 6,600 athletes and officials from 70 nations and territories, in an 11-day event that will garner a cumulative audience of 1.5 billion.
But GC2018 promises to be more than a sporting and cultural event as Telstra and Optus – Australia's largest and second largest telco – will also be duking it out.
Telstra drew first blood in January when it announced that following a successful field test in September 2016, it would trial a 5G network at GC2018. But Optus hit back in April this year, announcing that it had formed a strategic partnership to be the official support network of GC2018. Optus claims that it will deliver high-speed telecommunications infrastructure to more than 30 Commonwealth Games venues but has yet to state whether or not this network will be 5G.
What is 5G?
The "G" in 5G stands for generation. Since 1982, when 1G was introduced, these generations have been advancing at roughly a decade per iteration. 2G was introduced in 1992, and 3G appeared in the early 2000s. 4G was standardised in 2012, and if all goes according to plan, 5G should see wide uptake by 2020.
Each generation is defined by features of the service such as advances in transmission technology, bit rates and frequency bands. Once a generation has been established it is standardised and scaled accordingly. 5G – which is still very much in development – has yet to be standardised.
Aside from the major leap that happened from 2G to 3G with the introduction of mobile internet browsing, the main difference between these generations is speed, and we can expect 5G to be much faster. At their best, 4G networks have a theoretical download speed of 1 gigabit per second and 5G promises networks that will start at 10 gigabits per second and possibly go up to 20 beyond. Another benefit of 5G is that it will offer lower latency - less time for messages to traverse the system – which will presumably be a big plus for Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable devices.
5G and CX
As noted by Telstra CEO Andrew Penn, 5G will be a "customer experience revolution". It sounds great, but what does he mean by that?
Essentially, 5G will improve CX by delivering a more connected world. Asha Keddy, the general manager of mobile standards for advanced technology at Intel, talked about that change ahead of this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC).
“The 2G networks were designed for voice, 3G for voice and data, and 4G for broadband internet experiences," she told Quartz. "With 5G, we’ll see computing capabilities getting fused with communications everywhere, so trillions of things like wearable devices don’t have to worry about computing power because network can do any processing needed.”
“These next-generation networks and standards will need to solve a more complex challenge of combining communications and computing together so intelligence is at your fingertips and available to the machines that make up the internet of things,” she added.
IoT beacons and wearables work together to improve the shopping experience. For example, via these technologies, you can walk into a store and instantly be recognised via your wearable device. Brands can then deliver personalised shopping experiences to you, not unlike those seen in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report.
Such innovations don't just benefit customers, but also workers too. In May, Samsung experimented with giving waiters wearable devices with preloaded with a hands-free task management application. During a pilot program, a restaurant in Ohio was able to boost customer satisfaction, increase turnover, and reduce the time that management spent overseeing employees.
With IoT, customer experience doesn’t necessarily end at the point of sale. Through embedded sensors, IoT-enabled products can send valuable diagnostic and user information back to companies. By monitoring how customers are using their products, companies will be able to notify customers about necessary product maintenance or carry out real-time market research to improve future products.
The improved latency of 5G might also save lives. Earlier this year, automotive software and sensor company Savari revealed a new communications system for connected cars. Savari's, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology allows cars to share data with each other and the surrounding infrastructure. Since 5G means that cars can send and receive messages much faster than before Savari says that the data can then be quickly analysed and provide as much as 3 seconds warning before an accident happens. Once again, it may sound like we are entering the realm of Minority Report and "pre-crime", but this is the kind of innovation that 5G allows.
5G will also facilitate the increased uptake of VR, AR and mixed reality. Imagine browsing a travel website and instead of looking at photos or video, putting on a headset and looking around the hotel or holiday destination you are considering. This is all possible with today's technology, but it will require a super-fast network to support it.
Commenting on the increase in 4G enabled IoT technology at the MWC, Penn wrote that until recently, the hype of 5G often outpaced the reality.
"Not anymore," Penn wrote in a LinkedIn post in March. "Every major network operator at MWC had 4G enabled IoT technology, or technology planned for 5G powering real-world, real-time IoT applications.” Penn then described Telstra’s own IoT trial, which involved soil moisture and weather data being sent from a winery in Tasmania to the MWC in Barcelona.
The road ahead
5G may have been the talk of the MWC, but has a long way to go before it can be used on a large scale. 5G is yet to be standardised, which is something that multiple groups will have to come together and agree upon in the years leading up to 2020. Then there is the building of the infrastructure required, which is in itself a massive task. For now, 5G is set to rely on high-frequency bands between 3.4 to 3.7 GHz, which will be subject to factors such as distance, physical objects and weather conditions.
In Australia, an additional roadblock may come from the National Broadband Network (NBN), which has already staked a claim on a possible 5G spectrum band. “A large portion of this critical band has been set aside for the NBN to deliver services to 80,000 premises at the fringe of metro areas,” Vodafone chief Inaki Berroeta said at the CommsDay Summit in Sydney.
“What I am advocating is simply a discussion to identify the options. The current owners of that spectrum must be able to deliver its services, and at the same time the right spectrum has to be made available to industry to benefit from the economies of scale on international standards,” he added, echoing concerns that were first raised by Telstra in 2014.
NBN, which has seen a disastrous rollout of its network in Australia, isn’t keen on giving up the precious spectrum and is also in danger of being caught red-faced by improving mobile networks. In January, Telstra launched the world's first Gigabit LTE network with peak speeds of up to 1Gbps, an estimated 10 times fast than NBN speeds.
It's too early to predict exactly when Australians will be able to enjoy 5G and the improved CX that will come with it. But it’s safe to say that while athletes won't be competing for gold at GC2018 until next April, the battle for 5G is already well underway.