Now that 5G is more than just a fog on the horizon, segments are starting to come up with use cases for it. Truth be told (and we all know this), while 5G will happen, it will happen a lot faster if industry sees some return on investment potential. Therefore, it benefits all players to start evolving apps, especially for early use cases such as fixed wireless.
I am finally beginning to see some viable use cases and how the industry plans to develop them. While this may take a couple more years for some and many more years for others, these and many other use cases willdevelop.
One of the most promising, and likely the farthest out, is autonomous vehicles. The 5G use case for them is quite wide and deep.
One company whose name came up at the Mobile World Congress Americas last month was Zoox, whose website said it was “founded to create the full realization of autonomous mobility, today.” The startup is building a bidirectional electric autonomous vehicle from scratch. Bloomberg Businessweek wrote, “Of the many self-driving car hopefuls, Zoox may be the most daring. The company’s robot taxi could be amazing or terrible.”
Vehicles are a self-perpetuating segment. The more people there are, the more demand there will be for vehicles of all types, not just personal vehicles. While the medium may change, the theory has held true from the first bicycle. So autonomous vehicles have the potential to generate tremendous RoI in the 5G space.
One interesting applications in this segment is in fleet and service platforms such as Lyft and Uber, trucking, delivery services, etc. There is also talk of air and water taxies, as well as various renditions of rail. The critical elements here will be bandwidth and latency, especially latency.
5G will allow real-time data collection about what is happening everywhere, hence the need for super-low latency and wide bandwidth. The massive amounts of data produced by the activities of things and people in real time will require latency under a millisecond at the early stages and into the nanoseconds as the segment matures. This will be supported by vehicle to everything (V2X). This is where there are some promising mmWave use cases and a blank slate for applications.
That is just scratching the surface. By the time we have a full bi-directional V2X, level-5 autonomy, and fully smart infrastructures, 5G may well be 6G. Along the path, however, 5G will be the wireless infrastructure autonomous vehicles ride on.
Something that has started to pop up, lately, is talk about holographic images from handsets. Shades of Star Wars! That is exciting and a very strong use case for 5G. Why? Bandwidth. 3D holographic images will require extreme data speeds and that will only be possible with the bandwidths available in 5G. This has mmWave written all over it – a case for video conferencing on steroids. Vodaphone has just demonstrated it is possible.
This has much wider use cases than just phone calls, however. Collaborative work environments, immersive environments, 3D virtual conferences, classroom and on-site training, and more, are all candidates. The atmosphere is ripe for app developers to create apps for a slew of new uses.
Another hot area is public safety. Real-time situations will benefit greatly from wide bandwidth, low-latency 5G edge networks. Couple that with FirstNet and theoretically (and eventually, when all the politics and technicalities are worked out), we will have a modern, nationwide, interconnected, real-time public safety network.
The last, but not least installment of this missive for 5G use cases is fixed wireless access (FWA). There has been a lot of movement in that area, and for good reason. FWA is the easiest of the 5G services to implement in mmWave where we have a decent warehouse of knowledge and have been doing point-to-point (P2P) microwave for a long time.
The first use case here is 5G broadband Internet service. Proponents claim 5G FWA will rival wireline in speed and bandwidth. Verizon has some test beds already working in Sacramento, Indianapolis, Houston, and Los Angeles, for example. Others are hot on their heels.
While there is not likely to be the app opportunity in FWA that there is in other segments, the potential for RoI is huge. Simply put, all that works in wireline broadband Internet access is a candidate for FWA.
I have barely scratched the surface of use cases for wireless. I did not even talk about the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX), one of my favorite topics, where the number of use cases will likely outstrip all the others. I will catch than in another column. As well, 5G will enable so much in AI, the edge, the cloud, virtualization, even blockchain, and so much more.
Circling back to one of the subjects, I touched on in this column, the reality check, is RoI. In the end, that is the driving force. All hype aside, 5G will only thrive if the use cases are profitable. That will take some time to shake out and means the end user, whether it is the consumer, the enterprise, governments, will, eventually, have to find value in it.
It is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Without the infrastructure, we are not going to see adoption. However, adoption depends upon value and real profit dollars. We all know this. When we build it, we had better make sure they come.