January 10, 2020

The end of the last decade marked a technology arms race to deploy 5G. Mobile carriers raced to install network infrastructure that would provide wireless connectivity beyond 1 Gigabit-per-second in dozens of countries, including Australia, China, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States. But, why the hurry?

At the 2019 IEEE GLOBECOM conference, in Waikoloa, HI, we got a hint of how 5G networks might shape our cities over the next decade. During a panel on smart cities, IEEE Life Senior Member Ed Tiedemann, Sr. Vice President of Engineering at Qualcomm, explained that “the lifecycle of a ‘G’ is about 20 years – 4G started about 10 years ago, so we’re probably at the peak of 4G. We’re just launching 5G, so really, we’ll start to see the impact of 5G in about 10 years.”

When it comes to smart cities, “a lot of data is generated by users and devices at the edge of the network,” explains IEEE member Rao Yallapragada, Director at Intel. “The question now is: how do we harness that data, and how does 5G provide the infrastructure to deploy new services?”

Let’s look at just three ways that 5G will drive the next decade of smart cities.

1. Drones to the rescue

The City of Austin, Texas, is planning to use 5G networks to support autonomous vehicle communications throughout the city. And they are starting with drones that can augment emergency services.

“Our vision is to have a pool of drones that can be deployed as first responders to the scene of a car accident or a fire,” says IEEE member Ted Lehr, IT Data Architect for the City of Austin, Texas. “We plan to build high-speed corridors for drones, and we’re using 5G to enable that application.”

2. Remote surgery in rural areas

Today, people who live in remote or rural areas typically do not have access to emergency healthcare, particularly life-saving surgery. That might change with 5G. According to Semih Aslan, Professor at Texas State University, “the low latency of 5G makes surgery in remote areas possible through augmented reality.”

Robots could be sent to remote or rural areas, and doctors would be able to operate the robots remotely to provide real-time critical care in emergencies, or in the event of a catastrophe.

See also How Next Generation Networks Will Impact Your Data Efficiency and Security

3. Driving autonomously through the fog

As more and more 5G devices come online, we are likely to see data traffic bottlenecks as the cloud attempts to support a surge of new wireless services. T. Russell Hsing, IEEE Fellow and Professor at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, explains that “fog computing – a layer between the cloud and the edge – will play a key role in reducing the bandwidth between the edge and the cloud, and in enabling new services such as autonomous vehicles.”

Fog computing stands to support AI-enabled applications for navigation and route optimization through vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications between self-driving cars and smart city infrastructure.

As we deploy drones, remote surgical robots and self-driving cars, the landscape of our cities will begin to change rapidly. With 5G powering our smart cities, we must continue to be conscious of security.

“5G increases the attack surface area; we now have a mix of devices and services, as well as legacy software with interoperability issues,” says Michael Stricklen, Executive Director at EY-Parthenon.

It’s not too soon to start thinking about 6G. By 2030, visible light communications will augment radio networks to deliver a lot more indoor data; and physical layer security and AI will play a major role. To support the scaling of future networks, IEEE recently kicked off a cross-industry roadmapping initiative to bring together key players in the hardware, networking, and communications industries to align R&D efforts for new smart city applications in the future.

About our author
Mario Milicevic is an IEEE Member and Staff Communication Systems Engineer at MaxLinear.

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