“Milliseconds matter”: The importance of 5G in Canada’s future

21, Jul, 2021

There’s a lot of excitement simmering around 5G connectivity, and what its incorporation into our lives will mean. With how revolutionary the first four generations of data have been, a newer, faster standard for internet connectivity has wide-ranging implications, some obvious and others opaque.

Last week, the Globe and Mail hosted an event on 5G and its encroaching presence across Canada, to discuss these effects. The event, hosted by the Globe and Mail’s Telecom Reporter Alexandra Posadzki, brought together leading figures at the forefront of 5G in Canada.

ASET has long been keeping an eye on Internet of Things tech evolution, as sensors are placed onto more objects to relay useful data between these objects and online networks. This further interconnectivity needs a meatier, faster connection standard, brought about by 5G. The internet speed it brings will have a fundamental part to play in cracking open the IoT’s promise.

Panellist Anwar Haque, professor and industry expert in residence, faculty of science at Western University, explains that without the faster bandwidth speed of 5G, reaching that potential is impossible.

“The bandwidth that we have is not really enough to support all those mission-critical applications. For example, [for] a very high resolution healthcare application remote surgery going on, you need really massive bandwidth there,” Haque says.

“The latency is important in these real-time applications. We need millisecond-level latency in terms of, one millisecond, two millisecond and even less than that. I think the average latency if we look into our current wireless network from 4G is in the range of 40 to 50 milliseconds.”

This faster bandwidth and lower latency becomes more desirable by the day, as new smart technology and IoT applications are cooked up in labs and industry. Panellist Jason Elliot is the head of portfolio and partnership marketing at Nokia. This continuous expansion of new apps will allow for what Elliot describes on the consumer side as a movement from a two-dimensional world, to a 3D one.

“Augmented reality and virtual reality create a much more immersive environment for us,” Elliot says. “The way we kind of talk and interact with each other will become a lot more lifelike over a period of time, and easier to communicate.”

Meanwhile, on the industrial side, 5G can allow for safer and more efficient processes when paired with other systems.

“We're going to be able to control machines in real time, so everything from robotics, to other types of machinery. Think about this in terms of manufacturing, mining and remote locations, and hazardous environments, ports and harbours as well,” Elliot says.

This safety and efficiency isn’t limited to factory floors and mineshafts. Streets and avenues stand to receive some optimization as well – especially with the rising spectre of automated vehicles. Panellist Jeremy Wubs, senior vice-president, marketing and professional services with Bell Canada, points to multiple factors that could be improved.

“The idle times of cars are totally inefficient. How do you manage an intersection effectively, to reduce emissions, to reduce accidents, to create better experiences?” He asks.

“Milliseconds matter, like how fast the car stops. If the network's slow, it's not going to stop in time. It's not going to react to other vehicles that are there,” Wubs says.

Haque echoes this sentiment. He says that once smart systems capable of advanced detection are in place, vehicle speed and direction information can be used to make safer traffic decisions.

“They [the systems] will get more and more potential, and potentially benefited when all these vehicles will be connected. It will be collaborated, connected, and smarter actions will be taken based on any potential threats on the road,” Haque says.

Despite 5G’s growing potential to revolutionize processes across the board, its inclusion could also increase security threats. This danger stems from the enlarged data volume and traffic growth a speedier, more widely disseminated connection standard brings. Panellist Gwen Beauchemin, chief executive officer at Tillet Consulting, argues then for a cautious and thoughtful approach during the incorporation of 5G into existing infrastructure.

“It's incredibly important, as we connect all of our infrastructure, the old and the new together, that we take special attention to the security profile of the individual piece, and how it will change the threat when you hook it all up together,” Beauchemin says.

“You want the information to be available all the time, you want only the people that need the information to be able to access it,” she says. “You also want any actions to that information to change it, modify it, delete it, to only be done by the people that are in positions that hold those responsibilities.”

Adding to security issues are physical considerations; implementing 5G at this point will require dotting the landscape with towers and other fixtures.

“You actually need more towers, a lot more towers in a 5G world,” Wubs says. “So you need a tower or microcell every 150 metres to get the kind of speeds that 5G promises.” The addition of those structures, while providing a higher quality network more on par with cities to those in rural areas, raises concerns around uglifying Canada’s natural landscapes.

While Wubs acknowledges the proliferation of 5G towers has its limitations, he says that unlike 4G towers, the structures themselves will be much smaller and less visually invasive. He adds that in the near future, such implements could shrink even more.

“It's hard to say in two years or three years what those form factors will look like; they could be even smaller. Who knows? Maybe they could be a light bulb in a lamppost in the future,” Wubs says.

Increased physical infrastructure, data and traffic volume inevitably mean more energy usage, as well. That being said, Elliot says the faster internet standard and its processes will actually increase energy efficiency. This improvement comes in part from combining 5G processes with other growing tech applications.

“We're using advanced capabilities like machine learning to do micro switches within the radius to turn off when there's not any transmission needed, to lower the power consumption,” Elliot points out, as an example of one of Nokia’s efficiency efforts. He also highlights the role of digitization of aspects in traditionally physical industries.

“A lot of the physical industries such as manufacturing, mining, transportation, logistics, etc., will be able to digitalize their particular industry segments as well. They can also improve their sustainability characteristics and be able to improve on their processes overall,” Elliot says.

As the fifth generation of internet connectivity grows into more aspects of our lives, while cutting away the cords and cables of 4G, downloads will become faster, processes more streamlined… and our experiences will grow that much more immediate.


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