What is 5G?

The latest generation of wireless technology, otherwise known as 5G, follows previous generations (G) of mobile technology.

3G instigated the launch of smartphones, which have now become a part of everyday life for billions of people around the world. The following generation, 4G, enabled faster internet browsing – kickstarting streaming platforms on the move, as well as new apps and businesses utlising this on-the-move functionality.

According to Ofcom, 5G will provide much faster internet than previous generations of wireless technology, and will allow thousands of devices in a small area to be connected at the same time.

The government-approved regulatory and competition authority for the broadcasting stated: “The reduction in latency (the time between instructing a wireless device to perform an action and that action being completed) means 5G is also more responsive. This means gamers will see an end to the slight delays that can occur, when games can take time to reflect what they’re doing on their controller.

“But the biggest differences go far beyond improving the way we use existing technology like smartphones or games consoles. The connectivity and capacity offered by 5G is opening up the potential for new, innovative services.”

In response to the rapid adoption, the UK Government has made steps to help businesses prepare for the rollout.

With all of the UK’s major mobile network providers having either launched 5G services or are currently rolling them out, Business Leader has looked into the industry, and got the views of experts on what it means for us all and what could happen next.

5G set to add $8trn to global GDP by 2030

5G-enabled industries have the potential to deliver $8trn in value to the global economy by 2030 according to new research from Nokia and Nokia Bell Labs. The 5G Business Readiness Report surveys 5G adoption among businesses around the world, providing a cross-sector view of the path to full 5G deployment.

This landmark report from Nokia underlines the potential for 5G to drive sustainable economic growth and define the next decade of innovation. The COVID-19 pandemic is forecast to further increase the value creation potential of 5G in the medium and long-term by accelerating digitization, particularly among the least digitally advanced industries.

The report also highlights a clear correlation between 5G deployment and business performance. Companies at an advanced level of 5G adoption were the only group to experience a net increase in productivity (+10%) following COVID-19, and the only group able to maintain or increase customer engagement during the pandemic.

5G mature companies are also growing considerably faster than their peers: 49% of companies in the expansion phase and 37% in the implementation phase – representing the two most advanced stages of 5G maturity – achieved rapid growth last year, compared with 20% in the planning, 11% in discovery and 5% in passive phases. These findings show that the companies who are most 5G mature, and therefore likely also the most advanced in their overall digital transformation, are showing the highest impact in business performance.

Despite the economic challenges of COVID-19, a global boom in 5G investment will see 72% of large companies invest in 5G over the next five years. The report forecasts a rapid uptick in investment over the next three years as enterprises seek to expedite digitalization. A third of companies across all regions fear being outpaced by the competition should they not invest in 5G within the next three years.

Nokia’s 5G Business Readiness Model reveals that across eight economies  – Australia, Germany, Finland, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the UK and the US – 50% of companies are at the midway level on 5G readiness, between initial planning, trials and deployment, compared to just 7% that are classed as 5G mature.

But significant geographic variations exist; while 13% of organizations in Saudi Arabia and 12% in the United States rated as 5G mature, fewer than one in 20 were classed as such in Germany (3%), Finland (2%) and the UK (4%).

While many organizations are at the Implementation stage, for most this still means trials, pilots or early stage deployments such as 5G mobile phones or limited 5G connectivity for fleet services or rural locations. Few have yet to realize the true breadth, depth and potential of 5G.

On average, whilst the importance of 5G adoption is well understood, a significant investment gap remains. 86% of decision makers said they have some kind of strategy for 5G, and over a third fear being outpaced by the competition should they not invest in 5G in the next 3 years. However, only 15% are currently investing in its implementation, and over a quarter (29%) of businesses are not planning any 5G investment in the next 5 years.

Gabriela Styf Sjöman, Chief Strategy Officer at Nokia, said: “As organisations across the world move faster towards deployment of 5G enabled technologies, those who wish to be the first to leverage its potential cannot afford to lose more time. To capture the tremendous opportunities of 5G, organizations must start or intensify their planning now and accelerate business model innovation to remain competitive in a rapidly digitalising global economy. Beyond investment in the technology itself, this will require digitalizing operations, processes and ways of working to capture the full potential of 5G.

“5G adoption is categorically shown to fuel business success. Organizations that have integrated 5G stand to benefit from advantages that go way beyond faster, more efficient and reliable network services. As 5G enables businesses to transform, it will also accelerate wider technological and economic trends, with unimaginable possibilities for global economies and societies. The cities, hospitals and factories of the future depend on 5G and the unparalleled ability it offers to move, process and store vast volumes of data. Moreover, the biggest challenges we face as a society – from climate change to the pandemic – can be better tackled through at-scale use of the data and technologies that 5G will unleash.”

New research finds only a third of telcos have a clear strategy in place for 5G

New research by IT services provider NTT DATA UK and research firm teknowlogy Group has found that only a third of telcos have a clear strategy for 5G, despite an overwhelming majority recognising the transformative potential of the technology for the sector.

The study interviewed senior business leaders from across Europe to understand the complex picture of the current 5G market and discovered that whilst 94% of telcos believe 5G will transform the sector, only 35% have a clear strategy in place. With the technology set to play an increasingly vital role across all industries and timelines narrowing, more aggressive transformation roadmaps are required to make the most of 5G.

The research also raises concerns as to whether telcos are adequately prepared for the pace of 5G adoption, with almost half of telcos (46%) still exploring the value that 5G technology can offer. Moreover, the findings show that:

• Project timelines are tight, as over half of enterprises (52%) expect to implement 5G solutions within the next year.
• However, the majority of telcos (88%) plan to implement 5G solutions over the next 24 months, which may create an overlap between buy-side demand and the sell-side supply.
• Only 10 per cent of telcos expect to generate more than 20% of revenue from 5G or 5G augmented products over the next 5 years.

Ollie O’Donoghue, Senior Analyst at PAC, a teknowlogy Group company, commented: “We’re starting to see enterprises take a serious look at the impact 5G will play on their business. And while optimism is high, leaders are beginning to recognise that a lot of work is still needed to develop the foundations necessary to deliver real value from 5G. Moreover, there is a pressing need to find solutions to a growing list of challenges – from the maturity of solutions on the market to robust security and data management capabilities to soothe compliance concerns. There’s a significant role to play for the evolving ecosystem of vendors and providers in the space as enterprises look for more support as they head further into their 5G journeys.”

Data management stands out as the key issue in implementation. 43 per cent of telcos claimed that this would be the biggest obstacle to 5G adoption in their business, with 35 per cent finding reliance and compliance issues to be one of the biggest barriers. Other notable obstacles to adoption include:

• Talent shortage (31%)
• Limited pool of partners to support telcos (30%)
• Legacy technology (28%)
• Cultural challenges (24%)
• Uncertainty around the true benefits of the technology (23%)

Matthew O’Neill, Head of Networks at NTT DATA UK, commented, “5G stands to disrupt the telco industry more than most, given the high demand for 5G technology across all industries. As such, telco businesses need to ensure they have a clear strategy to manage the transformative impact of the technology and meet current demand. The benefits of wider implementation promise great opportunity, but clarity is needed to ensure a smooth transformation journey.”

What do you need to know about 6G?

Several billion dollars have been put on the table for 6G Communication so far. The IDTechEx report “6G Communications Market, Devices, Materials 2021-2041” reveals how Europe, North America, and East Asia are all strongly committed to this dream. So who is ahead in the race to mass deployment maybe in 2030?

Patents

In 5G, Samsung has more than ten times the patents than the next ten patentors combined. About one-hundredth of the patents have been filed on 6G vs 5G with Huawei of China in the lead. With 6G, sensors are center stage, the world’s sensor patents being dominated by Japan, South Korea then Germany. However, analysts at IDTechEx caution that this simply reflects China’s preference for patent systems rather than components. The IDTechEx report “Sensors 2021-2041” analyzes by patents, application, technology, and operating principle with forecasts.

Giant companies participating

Giant companies are seen to participate and even collaborate on 6G more in East Asia and China. One example is Qualcomm, Apple, Google, and LG among the members of one 6G working group. China has a satellite deployed exclusively for 6G research and a robust government policy of leapfrogging in the adoption of new technology and creating huge companies to do it. Europe, IDTechEx finds that Ericsson is strongly patenting 6G and Robert Bosch strongly patents sensors in general but there is a danger that Europeans will be under-protected in the next wave of these technologies. Europe has few telecommunications hardware giants to tackle 6G but it has large telecommunications operators.

Europe has a place

From the outset, 6G will be both human- and machine-centric. In fact, personal devices may not dominate 6G. Europeans remember what happened to Nokia Finland and much of the formidable European Union 6G research funding is now managed from Finland as part of an attempted comeback with 6G systems. In mid-2021, the 5G Infrastructure Association published a “European Vision for the 6G Network Ecosystem”. The Europeans are way ahead in practicing collaboration between multiple countries on future technology.

A pioneering center is being launched in the UK to take mobile technology to the next level and put the country at the global forefront of 6G research, innovation, and education. The new virtual hub, called 6G Futures, unites more than 400 world-renowned experts in telecommunications networks, cyber, Artificial Intelligence AI, digital humanities, social sciences, and arts from the University of Bristol and King’s College London.

Standards and all-important RIS

Even the frequency is undecided. The global International Telecommunications Union ITU may decide that in 2023, no formal work having begun. Taking 5G as a model, many other bodies will participate in about eight years of 6G standards writing. ETSI in Europe, which produces globally applicable standards for ICT, has launched a new Industry Specification Group on Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces RIS. Learn more in the IDTechEx report, “6G Communications Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces Roadmap, Materials, Market 2021-2045”.

Vast areas of RIS must be placed on buildings, indoor walls, and elsewhere for 6G to work because the beams are so feeble at the higher frequencies essential for vastly better data transfer and response, they only go in a straight line and they are subject to weather. As yet it is unclear who is winning in this essential “relay of the future”.

Elephants in the room

An elephant in the room with 6G is that it proliferates infrastructure when technology more usually progresses by eliminating infrastructure. It is proposed that later versions will even charge your phone while you use it and drive some devices with no power but that means considerable power consumption by the infrastructure unless something is done. To find out more, please see the IDTechEx report, “Battery Elimination in Electronics: Market Impact IoT, 6G, Healthcare, Wearables 2021-2041”.

It sounds all very grand that 6G will harness the ability of trillions of connected machines to transfer sensory information as part of the communications experience, creating a whole new cyber-physical continuum. Researchers in the UK plan 6G virtual teleportation by sending seeing, hearing, touch, taste, smell. Your distant physician interacts as a hologram.

6G could make the Internet of Things meet its original objective not, as now, sit at one-hundredth of the promised volume, with few “things-collaborating with things”. Think 6G IOT at billions of unrecoverable devices yearly the size of your hand. Hold on. Why is no one thinking about the resulting microplastic pollution? Working on biodegradable end devices? No one is in the lead on that.

Essential metamaterials, new semiconductors, software

6G RIS cannot affordably operate without metamaterials to limit their power consumption, size and cost and eliminate moving parts. Europe has seen the most metamaterial research but the USA now has most of the metamaterial manufacturers. See the IDTechEx report, “Metamaterial and Metasurface Markets Electromagnetic 2022-2042”.

Raghu Das CEO of IDTechEx sums up: “Enabling 6G will be metamaterials many forms – passive, semi-active and active RIS, static sun-tracking photovoltaics, cooling of photovoltaics and thermoelectrics by just an overlayer, best base-station beam-steering antennas without moving parts. Semiconductor devices working at unprecedently high frequencies are needed in many forms. From published literature, China is not in the lead here. Application of artificial intelligence, edge computing, and new software is being pursued worldwide so robustly that there is a concern that the hardware is not keeping up. Bottom line? No one is winning in 6G. It is all to play for.“

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