The use cases for 5G are still developing, but several are developing quickly, and both standardization work and technologies are evolving in steps so that networks can support new services and applications that need 5G’s capabilities. As we saw earlier, good progress is already being made in rolling out some services using evolved 4G networks; 5G will provide a smooth evolution to even more advanced services.
Fixed MBB (mobile broadband) in rural and underserved areas
Fixed mobile broadband in rural and underserved areas have seen the potential for using wireless networks to provide home broadband services for many years, and the capability of future 5G networks to deliver extremely high throughputs is giving the idea extra impetus. The cost of building access networks using wireless is much lower than deploying fibre; the last mile is the most expensive part of a network to build.
Coverage in this context means providing high-throughput (peak and average) access often for low density of users in defined, large areas. Penetration indoors makes deployment easier, though external CPE can be used (at greater unit cost – the units must be robust and are more difficult to power) – use of lower frequency spectrum will be preferred for reach and penetration reasons. Latency requirements are not onerous.
As consumer demand for video streaming, download and upload continues to grow, and as screen performance and resolution increases and more content is produced for 4K and 360-degreee video, wireless networks must deliver increased throughput and capacity, as efficiently as possible, using existing frequency bands, and develop ways of using additional frequency where needed. The enhanced mobile broadband use case is a fundamental driver for 5G deployment because of the need to deliver service for which there is proven demand. Coverage in this use case is defined by densification of access networks with small cells, mesh network connectivity and the use of new frequencies, including those shared with other services, to deliver capacity; architecting fronthaul and backhaul to handle increased data traffic is also required. Fallback to 4G would be expected and tolerated as users move out of 5G coverage.
Cloud robotics, AI and industrial automation
As the capabilities of robots increase – both in factory settings and more widely in business and consumer settings – the role of communications networks becomes more significant. Not all the processing power needed will be on-board robots: cloud-based and edge cloud resources will be used for processing large amounts of data very quickly, using artificial intelligence (AI) to help robots become more capable and useful. More broadly, initiatives such as the Industrial Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 are proving that there are significant efficiency benefits to the use of greater automation in factories and between factories and other sites; with wireless connections needed to support mobile robots, and in locations where fixed connections are not easy to install.
For many uses (such as robot vision and motion control) there will be a need for very low latency communication so that robots can operate safely; for other industrial uses such as modelling and design, very high capacity links will be needed as well as real-time operation. Other “mission-critical” applications will be found in medicine, including robotic surgery, and increasingly sophisticated telemedicine using AI-based diagnosis at a distance.
Public safety and administration
There is a broad range of use cases for public safety and administration, including high-definition security cameras for surveillance and traffic monitoring, improved communications for emergency services, connection of disparate end-points of smart cities with data processing and dashboard systems, and integration with intelligent transportation systems encompassing both static infrastructure and buses, trains and other vehicles.
Coverage requirements for these applications will vary. City authorities will require appropriate capacity and performance generally only within a specific area – though that area could include dense urban environments and more rural locations.
IoT and human-IoT interaction
The Internet of Things (IoT) is often considered to require networks that can support very large numbers of connections to devices such as sensors, actuators and control systems of multiple kinds. These applications have low power requirements, low signalling overhead, only very low data rates, and are often tolerant of relatively high latencies. Such applications have more reliance on uplink and often need very wide area coverage with deep penetration indoors and even underground.
However, some IoT applications such as those where there is human-to-machine or machine-to-human interaction will need higher data rates too where there is video streamed or uploaded from connected devices; coverage will be no less onerous for these applications than for most lower bitrate IoT applications. Some IoT-based automated and manual control systems will require lower network latencies than is acceptable for simple sensor-based data collection and upload.
AR/VR and the tactile Internet
Closely linked with enhanced mobile broadband applications, the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) is a use case in its own right. There is likely to be a rapid rise in use of these technologies as they mature, and the data throughput and latency needs of AR and VR are exceptionally demanding. The addition of haptic feedback and touch-based control for industrial applications and gaming does not add to the network performance demands but will contribute to greater uptake of immersive services.
VR and AR will be used in peoples’ homes, in the workplace and in other locations such as fan zones at sporting events, and historic and museum sites where immersive AR/VR experiences will be in demand, and by emergency services – for instance fire crews making safe dark and damaged buildings by using AR maps of building layout and facilities.
ITS, V2X and autonomous vehicles
Developments in intelligent, connected vehicles, and the vision of self-driving cars, are well documented. The range of purposes to which communications networks can be put is extremely broad – ranging from short-range ticketing, road tolling and information systems, involving vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, to applications where screens in vehicles can show an image of the road as seen from the video camera of vehicles in front, or real-time birds’ eye views of road intersections.
Also, HD real-time interactive maps cannot be realized without ultra-reliable and ultra-low latency connectivity especially with millions of vehicles on roads expected to have these maps using both uplink and downlink connectivity.
Many safety-critical applications from assisted/cooperative driving up to fully autonomous vehicles will require network connections with extremely low latencies, and vehicle-to-everything communications (V2X), which includes vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), and vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P). In addition, very large amounts of data will be traversing networks (TBs of data per vehicle per day). It is likely that there will be extensive use of mobile edge computing resources to achieve this performance.