Many businesses will be able to make significant cost reductions from the introduction of 5G, as evidenced by pioneer provider Vodafone New Zealand – who say they will save 10 per cent of their national energy usage.
Sharina Nisha, Head of Platforms for Vodafone, says: "We're expecting around 10 per cent savings in power consumption over the next few years as we upgrade a number of platforms and decommission old technology," she says. "While 5G means large increases in data use, the new technology brings with it greater efficiencies. As we migrate away from the older 2G and 3G networks, we will ultimately reduce energy consumption in our core network."
That same motive – new technology efficiencies – is also what will attract many other businesses to 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, she says, along with 5G's ability to usher in a whole new technological era.
Already 5G has been labelled not just a transitory phase but a whole new ball game. Some say it's a technology leap like that from typewriter to computer or telegraph to fax.
Perhaps the best analogy is that 5G will catapult mobile technology into the same everyday usage and relevance to the human race as electricity and the car.
Nisha says Vodafone is already working closely with businesses interested in using 5G and IoT technologies to drop their own costs.
"We are sure New Zealand businesses will, by using newer technologies optimised for peak and off-peak times and Internet of Things (IOT) networks, create not only beneficial economic outcomes but also environmental and social outcomes."
So what does she mean by that? Nisha gives the example of smart sensors in schools, powered by 5G, reducing power consumption by ensuring lights, heating and cooling only come on when students and teachers are in the building and in individual rooms. Smart office buildings will do the same thing – ideal cost reductions for smaller businesses, in particular.
But cost advantages for businesses potentially reach a lot further than that. An international study early this year by Oracle Communications – over 265 business leaders in 11 countries – found that 80 per cent of those surveyed felt 5G would reduce costs while generating new revenue streams. Such advances will not happen overnight but there is huge potential.
In manufacturing, 5G and IoT will see smart factories spring up which use data from sensors to increase production line efficiency, reduce energy consumption and more.
There is the potential for the development of truly smart cities – integrating video analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce congestion and travel times, thus lowering many transport costs and increasing productivity.
In the health industry, 5G's faster network speeds, reduced latency and greater reliability could allow doctors to treat patients remotely with less risk of network blackouts, disconnections and lag time. For example, US health insurance provider Anthem's research showed 86 per cent of doctors believe that wearable health monitors increase patient management of their own health – leading to predictions that wearable monitors will reduce hospital costs by 16 per cent over the next five years.
Robotic surgery is already a reality – in August doctors in China monitored three successful orthopaedic operations performed by surgical robots using 5G.
5G will also support massive growth in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications for use in industries like retail, real estate, manufacturing, tourism, entertainment and gaming – with cost reduction likely to be a big part of adopting such applications.
Network slicing will also allow some businesses to cut costs and develop new revenue streams. Slicing makes it possible for a business to operate their own private 5G network or multiple networks, set up according to highly specific business needs.
This can be used in many different ways but a common example of 5G application is driverless cars. Network slicing would facilitate impeccable vehicle-to-infrastructure communication for the autonomous vehicle organisation – so a passenger might be watching a high-bandwidth movie at the same time the car is transmitting key data, requiring low latency, for safe autonomous driving.
Nisha is at pains to emphasise that such advances will take place over time – but says many businesses will be able to identify and apply cost reductions as Vodafone has in four key areas:
• Decommissioning: Closing down old networks and using network function virtualisation (delivering network services as software) to move networks into more energy-efficient modes. Meanwhile, Vodafone's home location register (housing all customer phone numbers and sim card details) has been upgraded to use much less power. Vodafone's messaging service has been streamlined so that three vendors on three platforms have become one vendor on one platform.
• High-efficiency cooling equipment: Cooling system across networks will change from electrically-powered to free-cooling solutions like fresh air, heat exchangers or hot air enclosures to save power.
• Upgraded batteries: more sophisticated systems mean more reliability and reduced costs.
• Only-when-you-need-it power: 5G allows power to be directed to "where the customer is" rather than being on all the time over a wider area. Nisha says: "Think of it like a spotlight on a stage. It moves to where the actor is with the surrounds still in darkness."