The launch of fifth-generation (5G) network services has paved the way for a plethora of innovative solutions across industries. According to the Ericsson Mobility Report for the second quarter of 2023, the number of 5G subscriptions has reached nearly 1.3 billion globally. In fact, subscriptions rose by 175 million during just the second quarter of the year. Meanwhile, around 260 communication service providers (CSPs) have launched commercial 5G services. This warm reception has further pushed innovative use cases across various industries.
Amidst the rising 5G use cases, CSPs have also started venturing into the development of sixth-generation (6G) cellular technology, which is expected to operate on higher radio frequencies with greater capacity and be over a thousand times faster than 5G.
With the increasing promotion of these technologies, various use cases have emerged, providing massive adoption potential across industries.
5G use cases
Since the global launch of 5G networks around 2019, various use cases have emerged in different sectors across the world. These include:
5G technology enables precision agriculture, leading to higher productivity, better cost realisation, smart management, optimised crop and livestock resources, and the best prices for end-users. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research recently developed e-Crop or electronic crop, which is a device that uses internet of things (IoT) technology to provide crop-specific agricultural advice to farmers via text messages. The device tracks the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and water requirements of crops, minimising the yield gap. It successfully reduced the yield gap from 50 per cent to 5 per cent for the crops it was tested with, while also saving nutrients and water by 25-50 per cent.
Drone harvesting is another use case that has emerged as a cost-effective solution to overcome labour shortages. Drones embedded with 5G technology provide high definition images and aid in crop monitoring, while performing regular functions such as sowing seeds and spraying fertilisers.
5G network inclusions have enabled significant progress in the healthcare industry. Particularly since the devastating global outbreak of Covid-19, hospitals and medical services have been upgrading their networks to 5G. There are several new 5G solutions in healthcare, including telemedicine, smart wearables and secure communication within hospitals. 5G networks now support telemedicine applications by providing the high speed connectivity required for video consultations, remote monitoring of patients and other such services.
Wearable devices and IoT sensors have also become increasingly popular in healthcare, as they provide the ability to ascertain valuable insights regarding patients’ health and well-being. The connectivity and reliability of 5G networks enables expert surgeons to remotely assist in procedures, eliminating the need for them to be physically present at the location. This removes the barrier of specialisation being concentrated at one hospital, and allows specialised surgeries to be carried out across several.
In India, Apollo Multispeciality Hospitals, Kolkata, recently launched the country’s first comprehensively connected 5G ambulance. The custom-designed, state-of-the-art 5G-connected ambulance is equipped with the latest medical equipment, patient monitoring applications and telemetry devices that can transmit a patient’s health data to the hospital with low latency. In addition, it is also equipped with onboard cameras connected to an ultra-fast and low-latency 5G network. In cases where a critical patient is en route to the hospital and every second makes a difference, the 5G-connected ambulance can act as an extension of the emergency room, with seamless connection to the hospital. It allows emergency specialist doctors to be virtually present inside the ambulance. With a near-real-time camera feed, paramedics in the ambulance can leverage the network connection to collaborate with emergency specialists and take prompt actions.
The market size for 5G in healthcare is currently at $25.3 billion. However, the increasing adoption and use cases of 5G are expected to bolster this at a compound annual growth rate of 28.8 per cent between 2023-32. As such, the market size is expected to reach $239.2 billion by 2032.
Banking and financial industry
The advent of 5G has also brought major changes to traditional banking facilities. While traditional banks such as HDFC, ICICI and Kotak have a large physical presence with bank branches and ATM outlets, the new concept of “Neobanks” has gained popularity with the roll-out of 5G. Neobanks, or digital banks, are financial institutions that operate exclusively online, without physical branches. They offer a wide range of banking services, including checking and savings accounts, debit cards, loans, and investment products. Neobanks are typically more innovative and customer-centric than traditional banks, and they often offer lower fees and more competitive interest rates.
5G-powered banking and financial services are also overhauling traditional banking systems. The cloud technology supported by 5G provides for enhanced analytical capabilities, whereas the multiple layers of security within a 5G network help prevent cyber-attacks and frauds. The sheer speed at which data is transmitted in a 5G network enables cybersecurity services to detect and flag fraud transactions in real time.
In the manufacturing sector, 5G networks can provide creative solutions aimed at increasing productivity. IoT smart sensors and mixed reality are two of the most prominent use cases for manufacturing that have recently gained a footing in the global market.
Factories are already deploying IoT smart sensors, which allow them to monitor machines operating in closed environments and provide necessary support. Meanwhile, mixed reality provides real-time 3D virtualisation of the manufacturing process, which helps customers conduct 3D quality checks and factory tests for specific products. A prime example of a use case for mixed reality in manufacturing is Siemens’ new digital twin factory in Amberg, Germany. A digital twin is a virtual replica of the factory that can be used to simulate and optimise production processes.
The vision for 6G is built on the desire to create a seamless reality where the digital and physical worlds, as we know them today, have merged. However, according to Ericsson, 6G is expected to become available commercially only in the early 2030s. Nevertheless, the ongoing research and development in the field have shown various possible use cases for 6G networks. These include:
- Smart cities: 6G will enable new smart city applications such as intelligent traffic management, real-time environmental monitoring and connected energy grids.
- Holographic communication: 6G has the potential to enable holographic communication, which will allow people to see and interact with each other in real time, as if they were in the same room.
- Digital twins: 6G also has the potential to enable the creation of digital twins of entire cities, or even countries. These digital twins could be leveraged to simulate and analyse a wide range of scenarios, such as the impact of climate change or the implementation of new transportation infrastructure.
- Tactile internet: 6G wireless communication technology has the potential to enable “tactile internet”. This is a visionary paradigm for the future of communication that is meant to enable real-time transmission of haptic information, that is, information related to touch, with low latency. This will usher in a new era for applications such as remote surgery, virtual reality gaming and tactile communication.
A connected future
The transition to 5G is expected to unlock new use cases and revenue streams across industries. The outlook for its successor, 6G, is also positive, as research in the upcoming technology is pointing towards a promising and connected future.