Skip to main content

5G: enabler for the digital transformation of industry

The fifth generation of mobile telecommunications standards, 5G, is not the linear extension of the four previous generations (1G, 2G, 3G and 4G) that have emerged over the last thirty years. On the contrary, the set of technologies underpinning this latest standard will make 5G the disruptive generation, the generation that will utterly transform the economy. There are three main reasons for this.

First, 5G will boost capacity enormously, and not just in terms of theoretical performance, as early demonstrations have shown. 5G will take us decisively into the era of ultra-high-speed, with data transmission speeds potentially 10 times — or even 100 times — faster than 4G. Second, 5G will be disruptive because of its extremely low latency. The data transmission delay with 4G is in the order of tens of milliseconds, while with 5G it could be less than a millisecond, which is virtually real time. And third, the extensive network coverage of 5G will provide "connectivity everywhere" and support high connection densities, with up to 1 million devices per square kilometre connected simultaneously.

 Very large-scale development of AI and IoT

This unprecedented boom in connectivity will make it possible to develop the Internet of Things (IoT) and industrial uses of artificial intelligence (AI) at scale. Tomorrow, 5G will provide the infrastructure we need to roll out the innovations that are so promising today.

    "The main interest is B2B."

 So 5G opens up a whole world of new possibilities. Up to and including 4G, consumers were the first to benefit from each new generation of wireless technology. By contrast, the main interest of 5G lies in B2B markets. This next generation of mobile telecommunications will be the enabler for the digital transformation of B2B and is set to become the backbone of industrial operations is the broadest sense.

This applies to all of Thales's areas of business. In the transport market, for example, 5G combined with AI and IoT clears the route for connected and autonomous vehicles — not only self-driving cars but autonomous trains, planes and drones as well. In the highly promising field of Smart Cities, there will be significantly more ways to manage the life of the community in near real-time, not only to enhance security and mobility but also to measure pollution, optimise energy consumption, improve waste management, etc. The list is virtually endless. In the defence sector, 5G will cross a new frontier in battlefield digitalisation by enabling connected, collaborative combat. For the armed forces, data capabilities will be more crucial than ever to operational supremacy.

A decisive leap towards automated, then autonomous, industrial processes

It also applies to manufacturing as a whole. Experts agree that the roll-out of 5G will bring more economic benefits in manufacturing than in any other industry. A 2017 study by the economic analysis firm IHS Markit[1] estimates that 5G-enabled output worldwide could be worth 12,300 billion dollars in 2035, with the manufacturing industry accounting for a higher proportion (28%) than any other sector.

     "5G is about to become the nervous system of tomorrow's industry."

 The reason is simple: 5G is a decisive leap towards the automation of industrial processes, and ultimately towards autonomous industrial processes. A case could even be made that we are about to phase out obsolete industrial technologies based on closed, dedicated and therefore costly systems and replace them with the industrial IoT, in other words with connected machines controlled and supervised from a distance in real time, with two-way data communications that no longer rely on wired networks. 5G is most probably about to become the nervous system of tomorrow's industry.

This radical transformation will bring immediate benefits in terms of flexibility (making it easier to adapt production cycles to changing demand, to move to shorter production runs and offer more customisation and personalisation), productivity (faster production set-up and better quality control) and predictive maintenance (constantly gathering data to anticipate problems on production lines and prevent them from happening).

Advances are also expected in the healthcare sector, with 5G becoming a key enabler for telemedicine or even telesurgery.

New opportunities but also new risks

Rosy as the 5G future may appear, however, we must remember that all these new opportunities come with a new set of risks.

Clearly the biggest risk is the vulnerability of interconnected systems. Malevolent actors could, for example, exploit the large-scale integration of devices, some of them with inadequate security, or take advantage of growing network virtualisation. The second major risk is that businesses of all sizes could miss out on these new possibilities, failing to seize all the opportunities that 5G has to offer (which, admittedly, are hard to imagine at this stage) and losing out to competitors that were able to adapt more quickly.

5G cybersecurity for critical environments

The digital transformation of businesses — i.e. their capacity to use AI, leverage their data and embrace IoT — will depend on their ability to convert to 5G technologies. But they are going to need help. They are going to need to adapt their value propositions and solutions to offer new services, taking the notions of security and resilience duly into consideration, particularly in sectors like defence, healthcare and transport where human lives are at stake.

As a result, if they are going to benefit to the full from the coming revolution, they will need to rely on trusted third parties who understand the technologies and the constraints associated with critical environments. This is key to their ability to guarantee cybersecurity in critical installations, and it's a crucial prerequisite for developing and rolling out 5G across any industry or any ecosystem.

In the 5G future, we intend to assume our share of responsibility in managing decisive moments — as we do in other sectors of activity — in order to support our customers in their connected digital transformation. We are investing heavily in technologies like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, which will enable us all to reap the benefits of 5G safely and securely.

This is going to require a great deal of inventiveness and creativity. But if we all combine our intelligence and our expertise, we are about to embark on a terrific adventure!

[1]The 5G economy: How 5G technology will contribute to the global economy


The original article was published by Patrice Caine, Thales Chairman and CEO, on LinkedIn.