The Huawei Mobile Broadband Forum in Tokyo this week had tongues wagging about all the possibilities in a new 5G world. While the Chinese tech company would be behind the infrastructure that delivers 5G, the emphasis was on the next generation of apps that such pipes could bring.
With commercial 5G mobile networks due to arrive in 2018, here are some of the technologies we can look forward to:
1. Intelligent cars
Whether it’s driverless cars or simply cars with artificial intelligence to help humans drive safer and smarter, the amount of data involved makes a 5G mobile network imperative. The showfloor had several examples of this, including a Toshiba concept which had the car talking to the driver to advise on safety, navigation and fuel stops.
2. Virtual reality
Virtual and augmented reality was mentioned liberally during the forum. In fact, Huawei executive Abdurazak Mudesir had already said in Sydney earlier this month that VR would be the “killer app” for 5G. The next generation mobile network would be able to more smoothly handle graphics-rich VR apps than the current 4G systems, simply because of the capacity to transmit gigabytes of data in seconds.
Perhaps this is not a surprising use of the next generation mobile network, but the way that videos would be applied are eye-opening.
Japan’s SoftBank envisaged that 8K video would be delivered over a 5G network, to kick-start a new era in healthcare imaging. A CNN executive said that the cable news channel’s very existence depended on the quality of the videos that 5G could deliver.
Huawei chief executive Ken Hu predicted that live video would explode in popularity to challenge traditional entertainment media. He cited a Chinese example in which a famous Olympic medalist live streamed herself chatting and eating cupcakes — the one-hour live video attracted more than 10 million viewers, and earnt the athlete US$15,000.
The showfloor also had a Huawei example of a 3D monitor that does not require glasses. Maybe 5G will spur a revival for 3D telly?
4. Artificial intelligence
There were plenty of robots on the showfloor, both of the practical type that could help customers in a shop and the entertaining type that danced en masse. But they weren’t merely gimmicks — they represented the leg-up that artificial intelligence and machine learning would get from the arrival of 5G. Again, the huge amount of data that could be shared between devices would enable robots and other AI apps to be smarter than ever before.
5. Better-than-human vision
Sony demonstrated its better-than-human-eye image sensing technology, which it says will revolutionise apps like security, transport, manufacturing and obviously, photography. Technology now enables machines to do remarkable things like see through reflections in windows and water, view different parts of a picture with different levels of brightness, capture 960 frames per second and even detect freshness of vegetables.
All these applications handle large amounts of data — something that is not possible in the current 4G world, but will be within reach with 5G.
6. Pet tracking
It’s not just humans that will benefit from 5G. Industry group GSMA predicted that our furry family members would all have their own smart devices, in order for us to track their movements and monitor their welfare. How will your 5-year-old child feel when you deny her a smartphone but the cat gets one?
The journalist traveled to the Global Mobile Broadband Forum in Tokyo as a guest of Huawei.