On July 3rd, hubraum Berlin had the honor of hosting the 5G ecosystem summit. Our goal? To take the industry’s temperature. Where are we at when it comes to 5G? And what will the post-5G future look like? The summit brought together 18 startups in the field as well as numerous related companies and amongst other talented speakers, Claudia Nemat, the Deutsche Telekom board member responsible for Technology and Innovation. Also present to deliver a keynote was Sabina Jeschke, who works as a professor for information sciences in mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen University and has been on Deutsche Bahn’s management board, where she handles digitalization and technology.
Nemat summarised how we got to today. “When 2G came, it was all about SMS and voice calls. Then 3G arrived and a lot of people were sceptical: ‘What do you need this for?’ — but it brought with it mobile internet. In 2010, we got 4G and finally, downloading mobile videos became more effortless. So what’s 5G? It’s the boundary between physical and virtual reality. It creates a completely new experience centred on AR and in doing so, it provides entertainment and education. For industry, 5G also means automated production.”
Which sounds fantastic, right? Great for industry, magical for entertainment. But the conversation surrounding 5G is often dominated by one question: what will 5G’s killer app be – an app with enough end users to justify all this investment?
Jeschke explained that there are three streams of thought on this.
- we might get killer apps but they’ll probably be closer to the industrial side and as such, not so relevant to the consumer side
- we’ll experience such a vast revolution there’ll be no single killer app because the changes will be too big and too transformative for that
- as is often argued in South Korea – it won’t be so much about one killer app, it’ll be about how we will interact with the system. “The first killer app will be a mobile smartphone with unlimited mobile data. Then we’ll get mobile VR, new immersive media and enterprise private networks.”
So maybe there won’t be one single killer app. But where can we expect 5G to make the most impact? According to our expert speakers, in the following fields.
Nemat argues that 5G’s impact on industry will be vast. “When you look at today’s production sites, the reality is that most machines and robots are connected via a fixed line to the Local Area Network. When you have vehicles in the production sites, they are usually driven by people.” But this is all set to change. What Nemat found when interviewing companies in these industries was a demand for thousands of vehicles which could move automatically. “If you want autonomous driving vehicles, you’d need to have low latency with a high level of reliability and security – you don’t want someone to hack the network. For this, you’d need 5G in combination with edge computing and AI.”
However, Jeschke argued that one of the biggest impacts 5G will have on industry is forcing us to take the next step, technologically. “99 percent of the AI you use in industry and applications is data-driven AI. 5G will bring a second level of AI and we will end up with a problem: we have all the data, all the algorithm, who will do the analysis?”
Both speakers argued that 5G could have a vast impact on transport, whether public or private. Nemat spoke about how Deutsche Telekom was carrying out research at a roundabout in Ernst-Reuter-Platz. Deutsche Telekom has installed a series of traffic lights which collect data and delivers the analysis in real-time information which could be used to steer traffic. But, Nemat stressed, this is still at the research stage — watch this space!
Meanwhile at Deutsche Bahn, Jeschke announced that it was the fifth year in a row that the company enjoyed record numbers of passengers traveling on their trains. But why the demand? Well, it could be due to people being more conscious about the environmental effects of how they choose to travel, she explained. But she also attributed it to more people wanting to live outside of cities to enjoy a higher quality of life and wanting to commute in for work. Instead of seeing their commute as wasted time, she argued that nowadays “they expect travel time to be useful, they want to do something.” As such, when taking the train, rather than driving, they spend a lot of time on the internet – she cited that on one ICE4 train in Germany that was recently surveyed, there were 1000 people using the internet. “People tweet on trains, do emails, they also download movies and watch YouTube,” – all of which leads to a high demand for bandwidth.
That demand is only going to grow, she believes. “Think about voice communication: chatbots require more bandwidth than what’s needed for simple text so we’re facing even more demand.”
But 5G won’t just mean faster internet to meet the more complex demands of the voice era. It could also help you with the practical elements of your train journey. Say you’re changing onto a second train and the first train is running late: how do you know if you’ll make your connection? In the future, Jeschke believes you’ll be able to ask someone working on the trains and they’ll be able to remotely access a camera at the train station the second train is departing from to check whether the second train is running on time or is delayed.
Improvements won’t just happen on Germany’s trains, she hopes, but Europe-wide. “We’ve had interesting workshops with the European Commission and we’re debating creating 5G corridors for the railway system all over Europe. Sometime between 2021-2026, there will be 1 billion euros to build these 5G corridors for railway systems.”
On a work trip to South Korea, Nemat couldn’t help noticing a digital trend: “You could see that the teenagers there were completely passionate about shooting mobile videos with a large number of friends.” So far, so normal: What teenager doesn’t document their hangouts with friends? But this time round there was one major difference – “But this wasn’t a group of friends who were all physically present. Some were, but some of the friends weren’t there in person, and these friends were portrayed by the avatar of their choice in a virtual reality setting.”
This mix of reality and virtual reality is going to be the new norm, Nemat claims, and while the applications of 5G for gaming are obvious – mainly allowing more multiplayer augmented reality games – she thinks it could even extend into the world of sports. She talked about seeing a company demo of a product which allowed users to dance with their favourite K-pop star. “Imagine the same idea applied to yoga – place my yoga teacher next to me so I can watch and see how the movement should be done correctly.” This could also be used to make education more engaging and inspiring, she believes. “Maybe the next time I visit an ancient coliseum I look at it through my phone and I see horses racing.”