MCA eyeing upcoming 5G revolution

From remote surgery to self-driving vehicles: 5G predicted to enter mass market in 2020

Fully automated cars might become a reality with 5G
Fully automated cars might become a reality with 5G
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Malta’s communications watchdog is analysing the drastic leaps forward which 5G can open the doors to, as it launches a survey on the feasibility of the technology’s deployment in Malta.

In a discussion paper issued last May, the Malta Communications Authority delved into the digital transformation 5G can trigger, together with the technology’s economic feasibility.

5G, the fifth generation cellular network technology, will enable users utilising a 5G cellular network to reach internet data transfer speeds of at least 1Gbps, up to a theoretical maximum of 10Gbps.

Telecommunications giant Ericsson is predicting that 5G will take off in 2019 and 2020 will be the year in which the technology enters the mass market, with the MGA noting that 5G-ready handsets will be launched during the second quarter of 2019.

The European Commission has set 2020 as a target date for the commercial launch of 5G across all European Union member states, and 2025 for a comprehensive roll-out in cities and along major transport paths.

The MCA highlights that 5G can transform a number of sectors, namely automotive, healthcare, energy, public services and manufacturing and logistics.

The technology may enable the remote monitoring of patients using wireless devices, thus decentralising the healthcare system and allowing for the provision of smarter medications, immediately when required.

Proponents of 5G claim the technology may potentially enable new services which will radically transform transport as we know it, including automated cars which communicate with each other and road systems such as traffic lights – hence removing the human error factor behind many accidents – and parking management systems which indicate the availability and location of free parking spaces.

Ambulances will be connected to hospitals, transmitting vital data about the patient being transported.

Remote surgery will allow specialists to assist in operations remotely, using a console through which they will simulate the operation while robotic arms with surgical tools will carry out the actual operations.

Smart metering providing consumers information on their utility consumption in real-time and intelligent street lighting which adapts to the intensity of natural light are some of the environmental benefits the technology can bring.

In manufacturing, the technology can help in the localisation of assets including forklifts and goods in on-site production, and in providing warehouse management systems, amongst other uses.

Smart surveillance is another aspect which intelligent connectivity through 5G might help evolve.

The deployment of wirelessly connected video cameras will increase the need for cybersecurity applications to ensure that such devices are not susceptible to attacks, MCA notes.

Moreover, smart surveillance will require video and image processing to facilitate face recognition and the extraction of vehicle registration plates.

2020 – the start of the 5G era

The watchdog highlights that vehicle automation at level 2, where the system has longitudinal and lateral control with continuous driver oversight, is already available on the market, but automation from level 3 up to level 5 – where, ultimately, the vehicle is on its own and must be able to react to all situation that might arise without any driver input – is predicted to become available from 2020 onwards.

Remote surgery has already seen some experimentation, but it has not yet been widely adopted since existing communications systems are not cost-effective and subject to long latency and lack of reliability.

Once 5G enters the market, local remote surgery through wireless connectivity will be possible, since latency will be reduced drastically.

The deployment of commercial 5G networks is expected to start after 2020. The MCA underscored that GSMA is calling the period from 2020 “the 5G era”, when commercial 5G networks will be widely deployed.

By 2025, around 1.1 billion 5G connections should be in place.

Various 5G tests and trials are underway in a number of EU countries, and some operators in Malta already have a 5G ready network as part of their refresh, the MCA underscored.

Data bundles might not work for 5G

Adequate pricing scheme for 5G services which guarantee incremental revenue must be identified, the MCA emphasised.

While 3G and 4G pricing schemes are traditionally focused on data bundles, the approach might not suffice for 5G, it warns.

“The typical customer may not be willing to pay for 5G eMBB, especially during the period when the services provided by 4G are enough to address the customers’ needs,” it said.

A massive Internet of Things (IoT) - the extension of internet connectivity to everyday objects – there is also the question of whether there should be a price per device, since this may hinder the uptake of IoT.

A feasible business model is further challenges by the cost for network to roll-out 5G.

In light of this, mobile network operators are considering new business models to address pricing and cost feasibility challenges, the MCA added.

The Authority has drawn up a survey to gauge the response to a number of broad questions about 5G technologies, the expectations surrounding it, and its feasibility. Mobile network operators and industries, which feel they can benefit from the use of 5G, can file a request for a copy of the survey by sending an email to 5G@mca.org.mt.

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