Now that 5G is here, where is it expected to have an impact?

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Much has been made of 5G and its potential accelerator for a myriad technologies, with the Internet of Things (IoT) likely being the standout.

Well 5G is here now, and while its rollout may not have been according to plan thanks to COVID-19 and lockdown, or indeed without the pomp and circumstance that it deserves, we now have a handful of services providers offering the new broadband standard in certain parts of the country.

With Rain, Vodacom and most recently MTN offering 5G connectivity to customers, the transformative impact is now ready to take place. But, much like any new technology, it remains to be seen where that impact will be experienced first.

Offering some insight in that regard is Huawei Carrier CTO, Paul Scanlan, who says it will six areas of impact that are worth noting, with some more immediate than others.

One of the more immediate ones is rollout of 5G in rural areas, according to the CTO.

“When building a base station, the biggest cost is the construction,” he points out, “Because 5G components are more compact, the base stations are less expensive to build, which means coverage can be broader and more affordable. Customers then get a better service, at less cost. In this way, we continue to narrow the digital divide that deprives poor people of opportunities.”

Whether that digital divide is indeed shrunk, remains to be seen, but as the CTO highlights, the nature of rolling out 5G makes it possible.

Another area expected to benefit from 5G and the higher speeds it provides for, is agriculture, with monitoring and precise management of crops in particular standing to gain from the broadband standard.

The technology opens up the possibility of constant and consistent analysis of crops and the soil in which they sit. With South Africa close to the 60 million population mark, agriculture will need all the help it can get.

The same principle applies in the mining sector, which is easily one of the country’s most important.

Here automation will play a big part, and while this has no doubt proved a contentious issue, being able to operate a mine with more robotic elements, automated vehicles and remote systems in real-time, is made possible by 5G and the speed which it can provide.

Another area that Scanlan sees potential in is the commercial side of 3D printing. Here he says 5G will allow those on-site to download, print out and manufacture any specialised equipment they may need. This ease and convenience could prove a boon for many industries thanks to the increased connectivity that this broadband standard can create.

Looking finally to the world of medicine, and in particular the COVID-19 pandemic that South Africa is fighting right now, 5G makes it possible for doctors and hospitals to operate remotely, according to Scanlan.

“Doctors and specialists can now practice remotely, thanks to the precision and accuracy of 5G connectivity, conducting more consultations over great distances, without patients even having to leave home. Surgeons can even perform operations using remote robotics to connect with the most skilled professionals in the world,” he says.

With a vaccine for COVID-19 currently being tested, the Huawei Carrier CTO thinks 5G could add speed to the process of developing a solution.

“Where previously, the research, testing approvals and distribution of vaccines might take a decade, now we might have a Covid-19 vaccine within a year,” he posits.  “We are only able to do that because we can access and process information more quickly thanks to greater connectivity,” Scanlan concludes.

We are still in the early days of 5G’s local rollout, and while access remains limited to a few hubs across the country, there is indeed incentive to vastly improve the rate of connectivity.

If that happens, perhaps those smart cities we’ve been talking so long about will become a reality.

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.