The Covid-19 pandemic may have delayed the rollout of the fifth generation (5G) of mobile networks (a crucial enabler of digitalisation) in some countries for various reasons but at the same time, it has highlighted the need to fast-forward its adoption.
At a time when “the less contact the better” is becoming a common practice, the need for the kind of high-speed high bandwidth connectivity that 5G promises has become even more crucial.
In many countries, the Covid-19 pandemic has expedited widespread 5G services. China, for example, is relying on a new tech infrastructure to enhance its economic resilience and lessen the impact of the pandemic on its supply chains and logistics.
According to the World Economic Forum, the need for faster, greater capacity and more reliable tech infrastructure was amplified in China during the lockdown period when dependable and fast delivery of essential goods provided stability to tens of millions of families. Now, smart supply chains and smart logistics are seen as indispensable components of China’s future economy.
The new infrastructure consisting of 5G networks and data centres is also expected to drive economic growth in China by elevating businesses and helping them cope with the challenges that arise from transforming and upgrading to smart technologies.
Features offered by 5G networks have long been expected to bring about new use cases for mobile data as well as new business opportunities. These include the potential to launch new products and services that were not possible before, expanding into new markets and increasing productivity. Pre-Covid-19 pandemic estimates project that 5G will add more than US$12 trillion into the global economy by 2035.
“With gigabit speeds, millisecond latency, more robustness and reliability, 5G opens a world of immense potential and possibilities for individuals, businesses, industries and communities — essentially for the entire country. 5G is the fastest network and far more advanced in terms of robustness, latency, peak speed and reliability with potential speeds reaching 10Gps. 5G is able to support immense amounts of data and connect millions of devices. This means that everyone can enjoy high-speed seamless connectivity wherever they are and receive hyper-personalised service that caters to their evolving digital lifestyles,” says Gokhan Ogut, CEO of Maxis Bhd.
“5G will unlock new use cases for businesses and industries. It enables businesses to fully leverage on the power of IoT (Internet of Things), artificial intelligence, robotics, big data and analytics, cloud computing, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and other emerging technologies.
“5G supports digitalisation of SMEs and large corporations so that they can be ahead in local and global markets. Furthermore, it accelerates the country’s digital economy agenda as well as the journey towards Industry 4.0 (IR4.0) and contributes towards a post-Covid economic recovery,” adds Ogut.
David Li Da Wei, Huawei Malaysia’s vice president of enterprise business group concurs, noting that the technological features enabled by a 5G network are business enablers. “5G networks offer an unprecedented leap in bandwidth speeds in comparison to previous mobile networks. For example, downlink peak data throughput could reach 20Gbps while uplink peak data rates can be as high as 10Gbps.
“5G will also reduce latency and improve overall network efficiency. This enables ultra-reliable low-latency communication for machine-to-machine and public safety applications. However, even as 5G delivers new solutions, it depends on an end-to-end digital transformation in a business. This (environment) minimises operating expenditure, delivers efficiencies and drives revenue growth,” says Li.
In Malaysia, 5G is still being piloted. “Since early last year, telcos and internet service providers in the country have been investing in and exploring new 5G business opportunities in different industries. The implementation of 5G in vertical sectors would most likely be in stages,” says Li.
“It is possible that 5G is first offered as a direct alternative to a fibre network in solutions targeting individuals, homes or businesses. Eventually, it can be used by a solution provider to optimise their current smart solution for a specific industry by replacing the existing 3G or 4G or fibre network. We will probably see this transformation occurring in phases over the next five years,” he adds.
A report, “The Impact of Mobile Technology on the Response to Covid-19” by the World Economic Forum, found that Covid-19 has accelerated 5G demand in some industries and delayed demand in others. “5G demand for in-person retail, venues and airports has fallen considerably as a result of a drop in foot traffic … a trend that will likely last until a vaccine is widely available. Despite these slowdowns, 5G demand in several industries is accelerating. Online and essential retail, manufacturing and healthcare (including physical, mental and elderly care) will need 5G earlier than previously thought,” says the report.
“For online and essential retail, while an in-person workforce is still required, particularly in warehouses but as workers adhere to physical distancing guidelines, the need for automation and massive IoT to enable smart warehouses is accelerating. Once implemented, smart warehouses will allow workers to perform their duties at a safe distance from each other without losing productivity.”
Maxis’ Ogut expects AR and VR (protocols and devices that require high-download
bandwidth and low latency — features that are enabled by 5G networks) to be able to boost physical and online retail. For example, with AR technology, consumers can use their smartphones to bring a potential purchase to their homes. AR can also be used to facilitate in-store navigation so customers can reduce the time spent and the number of interactions in a store.
According to some news reports, brands that have been early adopters of AR technology have already seen a significant increase in sales for several years. Conversion rates have increased by 10% and in some cases, by as much as 200%, while product returns have dropped by 25%.
Meanwhile, VR is also expected to transform the shopping experience mainly by creating virtual encounters with sales personnel as well as a much more immersive and engaged experience for online and in-store shoppers.
“5G has the potential to accelerate digitalisation and automation in businesses across many industries in Malaysia. Ultimately, it will create services that enhance the lifestyle and quality of life for all. Besides retail, 5G networks will play a key role in smart factories by automating processes while artificial intelligence is used for troubleshooting. 5G has the potential to revolutionise industries such as healthcare, by enabling remote surgery, diagnostics and operations,” says Ogut.
Healthcare systems will clearly benefit from advanced connectivity as hospitals implement physical distancing measures and prepare for unexpected surges in the number of patients due to Covid-19. 5G-enabled telemedicine, which includes remote patient monitoring, allows access to medical care without unnecessary exposure to the virus and reduces the demand for hospital beds.
Healthcare is one of the nine industries identified by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission as a key focus area of 5G technology. The other industries are agriculture, education, entertainment, manufacturing, oil and gas, smart city, smart transport and tourism.
“5G is an economic imperative for the country as it has the ability to rejuvenate industries. In the future, I expect to see new services that require advanced connectivity. These are smart city services, smart meters or sensors, industrial automation and control, critical communications and others. There are many more prospects that arise from 5G networks in comparison to 4G, and if the players in the ecosystem want to succeed, there must be a lot of preparation (to ensure a successful 5G deployment across the country),” adds Ogut.
Premise of smart cities
5G is an enabling technology for IoT as information gathered through sensors can be transmitted immediately to central monitoring locations. The massive amount of data is then analysed and fed back to devices or infrastructure to effect changes if needed. This is the basic premise of smart cities where a web of connectivity maintains infrastructure and services and responds in real time to changes in the environment.
“All elements in a smart city such as buildings, communities, public spaces and even commercial and industrial areas are integrated and hyperconnected. The overall objective is to allow resources and operations of the township to be managed efficiently, cost-effectively and sustainably,” says Ogut.
“Smart city technologies encompass aspects such as connectivity, smart mobility, smart economy, smart public safety, cybersecurity, smart people, smart living and smart governance. It is made possible by seamless communication between person-to-person, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine. Using sensors, networks and applications, cities can gather real-time data needed to make decisions towards achieving the overall objective.
“Underpinning all these smart solutions is, of course, connectivity. As we move further into the digital age, we need a next-generation network that is robust and powerful enough to support advanced applications such as connected homes, smart city and smart agriculture. A 5G network will allow us to surge ahead with the smart city agenda,” adds Ogut.
Connectivity goes together with integration, another key element of a smart city. Central management of systems used in different sectors such as transport, energy, water, retail and health enable the sharing of data and capabilities.
“Over time, innovative applications will establish trend lines that can be used for intelligent infrastructure development, improve public services and refine social management initiatives and optimise the health of the ecosystem. An integrated platform and ecosystem clearly build better smart cities,” says Huawei’s Li.
“The concept of smart cities has been developed by many countries as an answer for sustainable urban development. A growing number of governments are using an impressive array of cutting-edge and innovative ICT technologies for their smart cities. Advanced wireless networks and IoT make omnipresent connectivity possible; cloud computing enables data sharing and integration, data mining and analysis. Unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) allow for cross-agency collaboration while intelligent operations centres improve the efficiency of urban management and public services,” adds Li.
Another feature of smart cities is the involvement of citizens in its efforts to improve the overall standard of living. Ogut says that smart cities are “engaged” cities where the focus is on how technology can improve the quality of life for residents. “In other words, a smart city agenda is about how we can positively impact the lives of millions of residents and entire communities in Malaysia,” he adds. — By Elaine Boey
Securing a totally connected world
Even before the introduction of 5G networks, hackers have managed to breach government systems, take over control of cars with internet-connected devices and sabotage smart home appliances. Cybercrimes from ransomware and malware, to crypto-jacking, identity theft and data breaches, have become so common that a recent study found that Americans are more afraid of cybercrimes than they are of violent crimes.
A concern surrounding the implementation of 5G is it creates more opportunities for cybercrimes to take place. “Cybersecurity will be more important than ever in a 5G world considering its speed, the number of connected devices, the volume of data and its proliferation and the continuous upgrades needed in smart cities. Security measures need to be prepared, developed and used simultaneously in the construction of a smart city,” says Gokhan Ogut, CEO of Maxis Bhd.
Huawei, as a solutions provider, is also concerned about network stability. It has established contingency plans should attacks occur. “Supporting network stability is our paramount social responsibility. We strive to ensure that everyone is able to communicate, access data, and share information anytime, anywhere.
“Huawei has a comprehensive customer network support system that covers a range of areas including organisational structures, designated personnel, processes and IT tools. We also have a mature business continuity management system which provides contingency plans for a range of emergencies, such as major natural disasters, political, economic, and trade upheavals and internet virus attacks,” says David Li Da Wei, Huawei Malaysia’s vice president of enterprise business group.
Ogut adds that fraud and security services will thrive in the era of smart cities. “Anomaly detection like Maxis’ artificial intelligence-powered network will identify unusual patterns and suspicious behaviour to detect and respond to cybersecurity threats swiftly.
“Anomaly detection, which refers to active security management and fraud prevention with in-event detection capabilities, moves away from traditional post-event reconciliation that can cost organisations millions annually,” he says.
A paper titled “Smart cities: five smart steps to cybersecurity” by PwC describes the best practices to address cybersecurity in a connected city:
- Creating of policies around IoT data privacy and data use at the outset to protect against inadvertent misuse. Sound policies guide users and employees towards becoming more cyber secure.
- Protecting individual identities by standardising rules and standards used in identity management across the city. This approach identifies and eliminates weak points in connected pieces of infrastructure.
- Securing information at the source which means that smart-city managers must have a clear understanding of the magnitude of the data that will be collected as well as how they are used. This way, it can be better secured and appropriately encrypted from the outset.
- Implementing deterrents to cybercrimes. Sanctions, fines and prison sentences need to be updated to reflect the consequences for rule-breakers in an interconnected world.
- Establishing protocols that identify who is using the information collected and ensure that they are authorised and governing that access. This promotes a cyber-secure culture by setting automatic standards and limitations.