The power and potential of 5G

With 5G hitting the headlines in the UK after Chinese firm Huawei was given the go-ahead to play a role in upgrading the country’s network, we take a look at what 5G means and why it’s likely to revolutionise the automotive industry

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth, and latest, generation of cellular networking surpassing the 4G network which was rolled out across the UK in 2012.


Each previous generation has enabled significant technological advancements that have shaped the way we communicate. From 2G, launched in 1991, sprung the humble SMS text message and the roll-out of 3G introduced mobile broadband services which were greatly improved by the existing network, 4G.


The introduction of 5G, however, is set to be ground-breaking and vastly transform the ways we live, work and connect. Due to its dramatically increased speeds, ability to handle more data and simultaneously connect more devices, 5G is widely believed to be faster, smarter and far more efficient than any previous advancement and is subsequently set to bring dramatic changes for every sector.

How fast is 5G?

In theory, 5G’s top speeds are incredibly fast. Unsurprisingly, there are many factors that can influence the true speed but a report by Opensignal, which collected real-world data from users from April-September 2019, found that maximum 5G download speeds reached 599Mbps in the UK and well over 1.8Gbps in the USA.


Compare this to standard 4G speeds and you’re looking at around 100 times faster, far outperforming any home broadband system.


Whilst the increase in download speeds may be a godsend when you’re trying to download a 4k video file or large presentation document on the go, it’s real potential forms the basis of a much bigger 5G picture.

What does 5G mean to the automotive industry?

Put simply, 5G is making waves in the automotive industry because it has the power, bandwidth and reach, to unleash the full potential of driverless cars.


When a self-driving car moves along a road it is essentially a data machine on wheels. In order to operate, driverless cars rely on advanced technology systems that can label, tag and annotate an enormous volume of data. These processes include:


  • 2D & 3D boundary boxing – objects in any given image are boxed by annotators.
  • Traffic annotation – machine-generated detections of traffic signs based upon previous traffic sign tagging.
  • Image classification – a process in computer vision that can classify an image according to its visual content e.g. an algorithm can be designed to tell if an image contains a human figure or not.
  • Polygon annotation – points are plotted on each vertex of the target object, these are often objects that cannot fit into cuboids or boundary boxing.
  • Semantic segmentation – more precise and specific than other types of annotations, semantic segmentation associates every single pixel in an entire image with a tag.
  • Lines and splines – used to train machines to recognise lanes and boundaries.


The limitations of 4G have so far prevented the automotive industry from maximising the potential of autonomous vehicles, with many concerns over reliability and safety.


Now, with 5G, this is all set to change primarily because out of increased speed will come the ability to bring down latency – a fly in the automotive ointment

Latency: 5G and human-like reflexes

Until now, the 4G cellular network has not been fast or powerful enough to replicate human-like reflexes. This is largely due to these reflexes being dependent on latency, the time it takes for data to be uploaded and reach its target.


In the context of driverless cars, this is the time it takes for data to be transmitted to the processor and to trigger a real-time reaction such as a brake or swerve to avoid an obstacle in real-time.


Operating on a 4G network, the average latency time is around 50ms. With the introduction of 5G, however, this has the potential to drop to an impressive 1ms. Naturally, there is some differentiation between potential speeds and real-life speed but nevertheless Google Stadia, a cloud-based gaming solution, is anticipating real-life latency speeds of around 10ms – this is still quicker than the time it takes for an image to be seen by the human eye and processed by the brain which is around 13ms, according to a 2014 study


This means, in theory at least, that driverless cars could have superhuman reflexes with the ability to reduce the margin of human error, automatically swerving to avoid other cars, obstacles or pedestrians sooner than the human brain has had the opportunity to process it.


Once 5G is widely established and proven its credentials as a super-fast, reliable and stable platform, and latency speeds reduced, it is likely that we will see autonomous vehicles becoming increasingly safe, advanced and a reality on the roads.

5G and the healthcare sector

It’s not just the automotive sector that could be transformed by 5G. The healthcare sector is likely to change and the introduction of 5G could bring about significant updates to the way healthcare is both advanced and delivered worldwide.


The forecasted bandwidth and speeds of 5G could enable paramedics operating a 5G smart ambulance, equipped with real-time technology and scanners, to send live data, imagery and scans directly to the hospital whilst the patient is enroute.


Once at hospital huge volumes of live data will have been analysed through data labelling and annotation and doctors could deliver innovative, less invasive treatments through 5G-developed augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and spatial computing.


If the procedure requires a specialist, the patient could be connected to a surgeon thousands of miles away through 5G remote robotic surgery. Much like driverless cars, this will be made possible thanks to decreased latency times. When a patient is ready to go home, which could be far sooner than previously possible, they could be monitored remotely by real-time data transmitters.

What does 5G mean for businesses?

There’s a myriad of innovative possibilities and boundless potential for 5G to transform how business works on many levels and across a huge number of sectors.


Whilst 5G is still in its infancy, and there is plenty of speculation circling, many early indications point towards our workplaces, cars, homes, and hospitals becoming glorified data processing hubs powered by powerful 5G data chips.


For businesses to truly harness the power of 5G, the coming years are highly likely to see an ever-growing demand for super-efficient data labelling, tagging and annotation as processes are able to compete with, and go beyond, human-like responses and intelligence.

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