The rollout of 5G is happening incredibly fast. It has been adopted more quickly than any other generation of mobile communications before it — and by 2025, it will be the dominant connectivity platform. Industry and enterprises are set to take immediate advantage, but what are the broader implications for the planet and our societies? The good news is that 5G enables several use cases that can help increase global sustainability by enabling immersive virtual collaboration, increasing economic resilience and bridging the digital divide, all while ensuring security both in single-vendor and in open, multi-vendor networks.
Improving remote collaboration through immersive virtual experiences
Remote work rose sharply in 2020 due to COVID-19 and may become the norm once the pandemic is over. While remote working can be productive, it still has a long way to go if it is to deliver the same benefits of in-person meetings and collaboration.
This is where immersive experiences powered by augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) will make a real difference. By 2025, all-new 5G use cases will simultaneously require high bandwidth (up to 100 Mbps) and low latency (as little as 5 ms) and ultra-high reliability (99.999% or “five nines” uptime) connectivity. Different services will have different profiles, adjusting these parameters as needed. As a result, people will be able to project extremely detailed, high-performing digital versions of themselves and other objects into physical environments anywhere in the world.
There’s an environmental benefit to doing virtual business better, too. The drop in greenhouse gas emissions seen during the pandemic with travel curtailed and people working from home can be sustained by using 5G-powered AR/VR to make virtual meetings as good as the real thing.
Increasing economic resilience with precise location and time data
5G lets us answer “where” and “when” things are happening with more precision than ever. This is already making navigation and logistics systems more efficient and will be critical to the rollout of autonomous vehicles. Many economic sectors, from finance to energy and telecoms depend on very precise timing information.
At the same time, we can think more broadly about potential applications that will both increase environmental sustainability and economic resilience. More precise location data will enable the development of autonomous farm robots that can perform continuous weed control with pinpoint accuracy. Farmers could significantly reduce their use of herbicides as a result, minimizing the impact on soil/water quality and protecting biodiversity. When we combine all these aspects, we see that our society’s dependence on precise location and time information will grow significantly.
5G could boost economic resilience by providing a reliable second source of precise location and timing information, not only assisting global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) but complementing them. GNSS only work in “open sky” environments — they can’t provide information in “sheltered” settings such as tunnels or buildings. 5G delivers position and timing information that is just as accurate as GNSS but can do so while providing unbroken indoor and outdoor coverage.
Bridging the digital divide through affordable connectivity everywhere
Broadband has become essential to our social lives and the world’s economies (both national and local), but there are still many “white spots” where no coverage exists. This digital divide must be addressed if more people are to access the economic opportunities and benefits that mobile connectivity provides. As future economic growth will depend less on basic connectivity and more on advanced service profiles, the harmful effects of these white spots will only become more acute.
White spots in farmland hinder modern agricultural water management. An estimated 42 percent of the world’s accessible fresh water is lost through leaky irrigation systems, inefficient application methods and growing crops that are too “thirsty” for their environment. A lack of fresh water is detrimental to human health and one of the main inhibitors of economic growth.
Farmers could be taking advantage of an extended 5G reach to monitor water systems for leakage. They could also accumulate data to develop new crop variants that will be better suited to changing environmental conditions.
With 5G, the potential exists to provide affordable, mid-bandwidth broadband connectivity over a very wide geographic area. By 2025, high-altitude platform stations (HAPS) could be extending network reach while allowing service providers to drive economies of scale that lower costs for end users and in combination with NR Light for large area – medium bandwidth Internet of Things (IoT).
Ensuring security through AI and automation
Many 5G scenarios rely on an open interfaces, dynamic associations and distributed deployments — which requires an up-to-the-task security architecture to protect them.
By embedding artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) into every layer of the network, service providers will be able to take a more proactive security approach that automatically detects anomalies and deploys countermeasures.
AI/ML will also help automate and self-optimize many aspects of the systems development processes, reducing the complexity associated with managing open, multi-vendor networks — for even greater security assurance.
The time is right to think big with 5G
Increasing global sustainability is one of the many areas in which an evolving 5G will help. Virtual collaboration, economic resiliency and the digital divide are complex challenges. By taking the right steps now, organizations can build the secure 5G infrastructure we will need to resolve those challenges now and in the years ahead — harnessing new service profiles, precise location and time data, and affordable global connectivity to make our world more sustainable in 2025 and beyond. Nokia is at the forefront of these technologies and we’re excited to drive this important work.
– Harri Holma, Nokia Bell Labs Fellow and Peter Merz, Head of Standardization and Research, Nokia Bell Labs
Sponsored by Nokia. A version of this post first appeared on Nokia.com in December 2020.