— This is the second part of the article. You can catch up on the first part here.
Even though connected devices can benefit from some less-obvious upgrades that 5G should deliver, it’s still pretty early. Nevertheless, here are some of the ways IoT and 5G can benefit us.
Self-driving cars not self-justifying 5G use cases
Having all of these capabilities hanging from the nearest 5G cell site does not mean that customers will or should want to take advantage of them. Consider one of the most frequently invoked scenarios for 5G: connecting the self-driving automobile.
“Latency becomes the difference between stopping in centimeters and meters,” said Samsung senior vice president and tech-strategy head June Hee Lee at the MWC trade show in Barcelona in February. “This is why 5G is the key to autonomous driving.”
But companies actually building autonomous vehicles recoil from the notion of having a car await braking or steering commands from the cloud.
“You still have to rely on onboard computation for anything safety-critical,” said Waymo chief technology officer Dmitri Dolgov at an event at that Google offshoot’s headquarters in May.
GM’s Cruise Automation subsidiary is taking a similar approach, emphasizing self-contained operation with a minimal attack surface.
“If you don’t need something, take it out,” said Cruise Automation’s principal autonomous vehicle security architect Chris Valasek in a talk at the 2018 Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. “We will just design the system where there are no inbound connections – the car only makes outbound connections.”
Qualcomm, the firm behind the chipsets in most US smartphones, has spent years building a case for connected cars powered by its own platform. But Qualcomm isn’t suggesting that a self-driving car will need connectivity to steer or brake.
“The car is basically a locally controlled implementation,” senior vice president of product management Nakul Duggal said. “It is not going to the cloud to take permissions.”
Instead, Qualcomm sees 5G’s role as a backstop to the car’s own sensors, transmitting information to and from other vehicles and nearby infrastructure – “V2X,” short for “vehicle to everything,” in industry jargon.
For example, Duggal suggested that an ambulance could send a give-way signal to autonomous vehicles ahead that might be out of the line of sight.
Wind River’s Brown says that sensors along a highway could respond to a crash by sending slow-down commands to vehicles well in advance; during free-flowing traffic, they could supplement the data collected by sensors on vehicles to augment the collective intelligence of the highway.
But, again, 5G won’t be in the driver’s seat.
“I see 5G building blocks that help enable and make a self-driving car work better, but this is only one building block in a much bigger story,” said Boston Consulting Group’s Schicht.
Smart factories, but maybe not smart cities
The idea of using 5G to breathe intelligence into an industrial setting or an entire city tops many what-if scenarios around this technology. Rysavy called smart cities and factory automation two of “the most promising and realistic IoT applications.” But the more confined and defined space of a factory may make for a better home for 5G innovation than a city’s traffic-filled streets.
“I’m a little bit of a skeptic with smart cities, because who’s going to pay for this all?” Entner said. “Cities are notoriously short on money.”
He added that the Federal Communications Commission’s move to cap how much cities and counties can charge wireless carriers for new cell-site deployments will likely discourage smart-city experimentation.
Many smart-city functions, meanwhile, don’t necessarily need 5G so much as just more bandwidth, period. At a Business Insider event in Washington in December, the question of whether smart cities need 5G drew noncommittal responses from panelists.
“I don’t think it’s the only thing,” said Tony Encinias, Dell’s chief strategy and innovation officer for state and local government (and before that, CIO of the state of Pennsylvania).
“They need connectivity,” said Kevin Garlan, North American innovation head for Citi, adding that he wouldn’t get hung up over 4G versus 5G.
Factories, however, have greater needs in a smaller space. Ericsson touts how wireless IoT has enabled it to improve the efficiencies of factories in Estonia, and China by precisely tracking tools and components—although the white paper Ericsson released in February notes that this “Industry 4.0” project includes 4G as well as 5G technology.
Still, the result is that Ericsson says it will need fewer humans at work in these facilities.
Industrial settings can bring other constraints. Schicht warns that many industrial firms are locked into relationships with entrenched equipment providers, making it “non-trivial” for competitors to pitch new control products to factory operators. He suggests that track-and-trace functions – using 5G to monitor the whereabouts of important components or tools, as in Ericsson’s implementation – would represent the most common use case.
Wireless carriers themselves might find that 5G’s network slicing and edge-computing capabilities can help them run their own businesses better. That would represent a sequel of sorts to “everything as a service” tools that bring cloud smarts to managing cloud services.
Still, by looking three to four years down a road that’s already taken many unexpected turns, we necessarily risk losing sight of what might await us just over the next hill. Or, more plainly, history suggests that throwing bandwidth at a problem can lead to unexpected solutions.
Qualcomm’s Duggal makes that point: “Whenever you have a big technology transition that happens, it becomes difficult for people to imagine what the world might look like if that technology existed.”