After almost five years of talk, 5G is finally arriving. I had an opportunity to attend MWC Barcelona this year, and the innovations and challenges of 5G were on full display. A number of operators announced their 5G launch plans for 2019, and several manufacturers announced 5G handsets. With this backdrop, security is beginning to be top-of-mind in keynotes and other presentations.
GSMA predicts that there will be more than 1.3 billion 5G subscribers by 2025, 25 billion global IoT connections by 2025 and $4.6 trillion of data-driven value creation by 2022. With these numbers, the mobile industry could be considered the world’s 4th largest economy. Incredible! There are more than 8.8 billion mobile connections today contributing to 4.5 percent of the global GDP.
I had many conversations at MWC Barcelona with service providers, partners, and industry analysts about the challenges ahead for 5G, and how companies could secure their 4G infrastructures and future-proof them for 5G. Here are some of my takeaways from the show and the implications for mobile networks.
Less artificial, more intelligent
This phrase from one of the keynotes captures a recurring theme from the new innovations on display. I was fascinated by the large amount of game developers and car manufacturers making statements about leveraging 5G for a more immersive and extended reality (XR) experience. For example,
- Microsoft launching HoloLens 2, which is primarily focused on new business and enterprise applications and is poised to revolutionize the way we purchase goods and services
- Sony connecting its Oculus Rift virtual reality game to the upcoming Spiderman movie
- Mercedes Benz and BMW collaborating on the development of new automotive and 5G-enabled cloud services to bring improved driving experiences and automation
- Qualcomm announcing the new Snapdragon 4G and 5G platforms for vehicle-to-everything communication (V2X), allowing cars to communicate with other vehicles, and paving the way for an autonomous-driven-vehicle infrastructure.
These kinds of bleeding-edge services depend on low latency and fast network connections delivered at the edge. In short, the new services are exactly what the mobile 5G network is designed to deliver. This makes securing these networks critical, and this is where security comes into play.
Operators step up to 5G
CEOs of mobile operators including Telefonica, Singtel, Orange, Vodafone and Korea Telecom shared their progress in launching 5G services in 2019. The different regions have taken contrasting paths on their 5G deployments.
- Major North American telecom carriers see fixed mobile broadband as the initial use case. Most have already announced 5G launch plans in focused metro areas.
- European and Asian carriers have been focusing on smart city, smart factory and general industrial use cases.
- Korea Telecom’s CEO reiterated that it first deployed 5G at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongyang in February 2018. Since then, KT has developed new consumer, industrial and enterprise 5G use cases like mobile live broadcasting, cloud-based VR and AR gaming, the world’s first 5G shipyard in collaboration with Hyundai Heavy Industries, cloud-based smart factory solutions, remote disaster management, intelligent traffic control and the first 5G private enterprise network.
- Vodafone emphasized that they will have up to 80 percent of its European locations ready for 5G through software upgrades over the next couple of years. Vodafone’s Group Technology Officer, Johan Wibergh, announced that the city center of Barcelona already offers 5G speeds of up to 1.5 Gbps based on the non-standalone 5G standard 3GPP release 15.
Breathtaking live demo
No doubt, the most fascinating example of the power that 5G can provide was the first 5G tele-mentored live surgery. Together with 200 other MWC attendees, I witnessed the first 5G tele-mentored live surgery carried out remotely via a 5G radio base station by Dr. Antonio de Lacy, head of the gastrointestinal surgery service at the Hospital of Barcelona. Dr. Lacy used a 5G video link and real-time white-boarding tool to help guide a younger surgeon in the removal of a colon cancer tumor. It was breathtaking and it illustrated the potential impact 5G low-latency communication can have on transforming the way patients are treated from remote locations.
This remarkable innovation was made possible by a consortium of Vodafone, Hospital of Barcelona, Mobile World Capital Barcelona, 5G Barcelona and the Advances in Surgery Channel (AIS). There is no doubt anymore that in the near future, 5G will allow surgeons to perform operations in remote locations where specialists are scarce.
The benefits of 5G are upon us
After so many years of promises and hype, 5G is finally here. Mobile operators, infrastructure and technology suppliers, industries, governments and regulators are closely collaborating to deliver these innovative and revolutionary use cases in 2019 and onwards. It is not a sprint, it is a marathon that will keep us on our toes for the next decade. 5G will disrupt every single vertical industry and new use cases are being developed around the world.
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