5G WON’T COOK YOUR DINNER or take you to a dreamland, but it can enable innovations that could do both—and more. The transition from a 4G network to 5G is not incremental as the digits may portray, say experts, but could truly change the world we live in. “The 4G system is inherently incapable of delivering data packets in less than 10 milliseconds, which is what gives 5G an edge,’’ says Christian Hedelin, head of strategy at Ericsson. A 5G network could be nearly 10 times faster than the 4G LTE that we Indians were recently bestowed with. At that speed, you could download all the episodes of Game of Thrones in seconds. What more can it do?

1. Internet of Skills

Consider this. A doctor in the U.S. conducting surgery on a patient in New Delhi with the help of robots. Such a complex operation requires very low-latency—you don’t want the robot to cut the wrong vessel because the information reached the surgeon a millisecond late, do you? 5G can help avoid that. Ericsson is working with NeuroDigital Technologies and doctors from King’s College London to showcase how an ultra-fast network would enable such a surgery. But the possibilities aren’t limited to an operation theatre. A chef in Italy could remotely prepare his speciality at a restaurant in Bengaluru, for instance. Companies are calling it the “Internet of skills” as it transfers a person’s expertise over a great distance.

2. Connected Vehicles

Autonomous cars are the future, that much is given. But that future may well require 5G. “Although 95% of the time, autonomous cars are guided by GPS, the real challenge is to prepare these cars for the unexpected,’’ says Hedelin of Ericsson. What if there’s an oil spill on a highway? Does it always have to result in a pile-up of vehicles? No. 5G will enable transfer of data from the first vehicle to others in a few milliseconds, thus relaying the signal before danger befalls.

3. Streaming 4K Video

We already have 4K television sets in the market, and even 4k programmes on some of the video-on-demand platforms. But streaming that content on your TV, or even the 4K display mobile phone, is another matter. A 4K video at 60 frames per second, or even higher, would need a much faster network than 4G. In other words, yes, it needs 5G.

4. Remote Mining

Some occupational hazards are more existential than others. For instance, in mining. But by using remote-controlled machinery, multiple feedback sources (video, audio, haptic), and a 5G network to relay the signals with low latency, miners could reduce the risk by avoiding manually-controlled explosions and, instead, carry out the operations from a safe distance. Productivity, too, is increased as this reduces the time between a blast and when a miner can enter the area.

5. Internet of Things

The trouble with multiple connected devices is that the quantum of data produced is so vast that it becomes difficult to process it. Issues such as high latency—the time taken for sending the data from one device to another—would reduce the effectiveness of IoT. But a dramatically faster 5G network, with its inherently low latency, would not be beset with this problem.

(The story was originally published in the October-December 2017 special issue of the magazine.)