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5G: Benefits and opportunities for the UK’s tech sector

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

Since 2017, the UK government has awarded £50m (part of the government’s £1bn Digital Strategy) to projects aimed at developing 5G testbeds and pilots to accelerate the roll-out of 5G networks, as part of the government’s ambition to be a global leader in 5G. These testbeds and pilots will allow the UK’s tech sector to assess new applications and products that make use of 5G capabilities. In this article, we demonstrate how 5G will create new opportunities for the UK’s tech sector.

5G technology – once it is ratified in 2020 – is estimated to stimulate up to $12.3tn of global economic output by 2035 (The 5G Economy, IHS economics and IHS technology, January 2017).  It promises to deliver improved end-user experience by offering new applications and services through gigabit speeds, and significantly improved performance and reliable networks. Building on the successes of 2G, 3G and 4G mobile networks, 5G will transform societies to support new services and new business models. Global telecoms standards organisation, the International Telecommunications Union, has identified several potential use cases for 5G networks as shown below:

5G will unlock opportunities for the UK’s tech industry to develop feature-rich solutions and services, creating opportunities in software, hardware, artificial intelligence, smart devices, wearables, gaming and media, automotive and agricultural machinery, to name a few. Below we highlight the opportunities that 5G presents the UK’s tech sector in the medical, agriculture and automotive industries.

5G will create many technology opportunities in the field of medicine. Medical fields that are likely to thrive as a result of 5G include precision medicine (customised healthcare), online consultations and remote health monitoring and medication. Robotic surgery is another developing area: although it is already in use, the surgeon currently needs to stand next to the robot in order for it to function. 5G can allow a surgeon to operate remotely in real-time with a robotic arm, therefore allowing everyone access to the best doctors, regardless of location.

Precision farming enabled by 5G will create new tech opportunities in the agriculture industry. Smart-farming techniques based on the Internet of Things and real-time data collection through field sensors will assist farmers in monitoring their fields for pests, and in planting, fertilising and harvesting their crops precisely. In addition, farm machinery that incorporates 5G connectivity with machine learning, deep learning and robotics will optimise harvesting techniques, increasing farmers’ yields and reducing costs.

Despite the setback of Uber’s autonomous vehicle (AV) programme, car makers and tech companies are racing ahead with AV as 5G provides growth opportunities. AVs use their own onboard artificial-intelligence-based computing systems to navigate, analyse data and dodge hazards. Connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) using vehicle-to-anything (V2X) communications over a 5G network will be able to share information on the move and at speed between other vehicles, pedestrians and street infrastructure with almost no delay.

V2X communications give CAVs enhanced vision and allow data exchange with other cars, enable alerts to be sent to pedestrians and vehicles, and can change the timing of traffic lights (see below). Furthermore, 5G could deliver an enhanced experience to CAV passengers, such as high-quality streaming and entertainment services.

The UK has a real opportunity to become a global leader in 5G. £385m has been promised by the UK government for investment in national digital, data and technology projects, covering areas like 5G. The opportunities for established and start-up UK tech companies involved in research, development and production, to showcase the applications and services enabled by 5G, are significant.

This article was first published in April 2018.

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