"5G is the first generation of mobile technology designed for industry and machines", says Adam Bryant. "It may be the fifth generation mobile network for us – but for machines it's the first generation."
Bryant is Nokia's head of technology for Oceania. His company has been building mobile networks since the first mobile generation. Nokia has been Vodafone New Zealand's partner since it built its second generation network more than 20 years ago.
Each mobile generation has brought its own technical revolution. The first saw phones move off fixed-line networks, the second gave people practical on-the-move calling while 3G introduced mobile email and basic data services. The 4G network we use today gives us better mobile internet.
With 5G the revolution is more nuanced. There is, of course, the Internet of things (IoT), where everything can be connected to the internet. Yet 5G means more than just fast communications for remote devices.
Bryant says: "It's all about connecting millions of devices together. It means being able to analyse the data coming from them in real time and then being able to take action, based on that analysis, back into the physical world.
"To date we've seen a lot of the physical world being replaced by virtual. We've seen physical television programming replaced by virtual Netflix. What's coming next with industry is that the physical world will be controlled by the virtual world."
Bryant says 5G helps usher in an 'age of magic' where we can control computers and technology more naturally, say, by using voices instead of keyboards. This already happens with products like Apple's Siri. With 5G and industrial applications, this means handling pattern recognition in real time.
To explain this, Bryant describes a Californian wind farm. He says: "There are sensors at the top of all the wind turbines. These look at the measurements coming back from the blades and use artificial intelligence to tell when bearings on a blade are likely to fail.
"Predictive maintenance means lower costs; the wind farm can save 90 per cent on its maintenance costs. Instead of waiting for failure and having downtime and an expensive repair, the engineers can feather it down when it's convenient and fix it."
Away from industry, Bryant says virtual reality is another "magic". Today, using virtual reality (VR) means a unwieldy headset tethered by cable to an expensive laptop running the software. He says it is easy to trip over the cables, especially when you're wearing a headset and can't see. He says soon machine-to-machine 5G connections will link the headsets.
One of 5G's big advantages for industry is that it does away with cables. This means factories and other industrial sites can be quickly reconfigured as needs change. Bryant says at Helsinki airport all the check-in machines are now connected by wireless—allowing managers to reconfigure the airport as needed.
"They can shift check-in machines from one airline to another, moving them around very easily", he says.
Vodafone already supports more than 80 million connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices globally. Existing networks can handle much of the work – though 5G brings new dimensions in terms of lower latency, higher speeds and massive numbers of devices.
Bryant says that's not all 5G brings to the party: "5G gives you long battery life. If you only use small amounts of the data, the devices are not very chatty. Earlier generation devices wake up every so often and check-in even when not in use; that runs the battery down.
"5G has been optimised for only turning the device radio on when it needs to transmit something. So a sensor that needs to send, say, a soil acidity report which is only a couple of bytes every hour, could potentially last up to 10 years".
To learn more about how 5G can benefit business innovation see Vodafone's 5G for business site.