Could low latency 5G boost your business?

Low latency 5G means faster input response times between machines on a mobile network, improving their performance – why is that a good thing and how could it help your business?

A 5G benefit regularly touted by technologists is its extra bandwidth, which brings a bigger pipe through which computers can convey more data in any given timeframe. Another is latency, or the speed at which two points in a network can send signals back and forth.

The lower the latency, the more potential use cases there are for cellular technology. Hypothetically, instant responses – those approaching the hallowed single millisecond mark, for example – would increase the effectiveness and dependability of driverless cars, remote surgery, augmented reality and, more prosaically, online gaming.

‘The impact of low latency 5G will be profound and wide reaching for many businesses’

Sergio Budkin, director of 5G IoT market development at Virgin Media O2, explains the benefits, using the example of autonomous road vehicles.

Says Budkin: “Using 5G, information about the road and rail conditions ahead or behind, would be provided to all road users in near real-time.

“The data would come from vehicles and trains themselves, monitoring systems such as roadside cameras and other road sensors. This information, once processed, would then be used to augment traffic management systems, electronic road signs and automated driving systems helping to avoid collisions and delays.”

This brings the prospect of hitherto sci-fi applications one step closer, just not quite near enough to make them a reality. Robot surgeons, even those fuelled with 5G, are impractically expensive compared to a human one getting on a plane, while the limited spread of 5G masts eliminates the practicability of automated driving on anything more than localised test areas.

Real near-term benefits

“5G’s faster speeds, lower latency, greater capacity, massive IoT communication and better reliability can deliver benefits for every sector – from travel and transportation, to healthcare, retail, public services and beyond,” says Budkin.

His business works in the manufacturing sector to build smart factories. He says low latency means immediate insights into opportunities and threats, lower risk of damaging accidents, predictable asset servicing and, when something does break, an immediate response.

“It’s an enabling technology that makes every element of a factory’s operations smarter,” says Simon Ranyard, MD of Orange Business Services UK, Ireland and the Nordic Region. “Augmented operator solutions; technicians anticipating potential breakdowns leveraging stand-alone mobile private networks; boosted quality control with process precision via smart tracking or connected glasses for mixed reality.

“In smart factories, 5G enables real-time activity and maintenance tracking and constant monitoring of equipment from a production and safety perspective, as well as environmental data.”

Shahid Ahmed, group EVP, new ventures and innovation at NTT, says other opportunities for digital transformation include machine vision cameras that could replace sensors on the factory floor, better mission critical applications where milliseconds count, and prioritised network traffic via network slicing.

What is network slicing?

For the uninitiated, network slicing is a technology which allows numerous virtual networks to sit within a physical network, each with their own independent performance and security standards.

A business can control traffic across its spectrum at a granular level, further improving latency times by allocating one set of rules to processes with intensive data requirements, and another to those with less need. In simple terms, this is easier to do on a 5G network.

Business case for private networks

While much of the excitement around fast connectivity centres on consumers, businesses have an opportunity to innovate and create points of difference using the emerging technology, according to Paul Marshall, CCO and co-founder at Eseye.

“For many consumer applications, 4G speeds are sufficient for most purposes today. For enterprises, 5G networks open up a world of new opportunities and innovation, particularly for Industry 4.0 use cases and other IoT initiatives.”

He cites the example of blending 5G features into private enterprise networks, where an organisation can bypass public telecommunications companies to control the spectrum, network, and data, with coverage restricted to a defined area. So, no exterior interference or sudden unanticipated pressure.

“Private 5G networks suit enterprises that demand a nearly instant response time and require low latency, high-speed data transmission. For example, some IoT solutions need extremely low latency or high bandwidth.”

In these cases, predictability is key. Public networks are subject to random periods of saturation and, therefore, performance troughs. For smart factories, automated production lines, or open cast mines utilising autonomous vehicles, the cost of implementing a more dependable private network is justified against potential losses caused by network instability.

On a private network, Marshall says: “5G cuts round trip latency and reduces packet loss on the radio network, eliminating the need for retries and improving connectivity consistency. These capabilities enable high speed mobility and highly responsive, real-time control applications when combined with edge computing.”

Shahid Ahmed says the technology increases access too. “Private 5G can enable municipal cities to set up networks that provide internet services to the local community. Schools, libraries and even businesses can opt to offer internet services to their neighbourhoods, creating a new ecosystem of mobile networks that can address the digital divide.”

It’s also conceivable how 5G low latency could be used in financial services – for example in high frequency trading where milliseconds potentially count – and even the global defence sector.

Back in 2019, Ericsson demonstrated this with a visual representation of 5G and edge computing. The test involved a Nerf gun, two cameras, a target and a small disc connected to a computer. When the Nerf gun fired at the target, cameras reported the bullet’s trajectory to data centres which then commanded the disc to move into its path, preventing it from hitting home.

Low latency 5G    

Though this and other 5G applications require new infrastructure, antenna systems and repeaters, among other wireless tech, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to visualise future use cases in the military, particularly at a time of souring international relations.

The low latency offered by 5G might not be quite the step change imagined by futurists, but its impact will nevertheless be profound and wide reaching for many businesses in a diverse range of markets.  

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Dan Matthews

Dan Matthews is a London-based business and technology journalist and author who writes for a range of publications, including bylines with the Telegraph, Guardian, Financial Times and Forbes.

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