This year the UK is welcoming the introduction of 5G - the fifth generation of mobile networks that promises to be faster and more reliable than previous systems. Its arrival is set to disrupt both consumer and industry behaviour, with 5G’s greater capacity creating opportunities in all sectors.
According to Barclays Corporate Banking, the new network could add up to £15.7 billion to the UK economy by 2025 as a result of greater efficiencies, increased output and easier international trade. Consequently, companies across the UK will be rapidly seeking ways to incorporate this new technology into their products and supply chains to get ahead of their competitors.
Below we examine some of the ways 5G will affect innovation in the UK and how different industries can benefit.
A shortage of funding and resources has stretched the National Health Service (NHS) to breaking point, with rumours of privatisation never quite going away. But the introduction of 5G could resolve many of the problems and relieve the immense pressure currently facing our health professionals.
A report from O2 estimates that 5G could free up approximately 1.1 million hours for UK GPs by enabling the widespread distribution of remote patient assessment and monitoring. With a fast, reliable internet connection, doctors will be able to check patients via video-conferences - if just 5% of all GP appointments are replaced in such a manner, there will be 4 million fewer physical visits to doctor surgeries. Such virtual appointments are far more flexible, meaning employees should not need as much time off work to speak with a GP. O2 predicts that this could lead to productivity gains of £1.3 billion.
Remote patient monitoring will also become more reliable and intelligent, as sensors can be installed into homes to automatically detect health problems, such as changes to heart rate or blood pressure. 5G’s low latency (quick response rate with little lag) means that such data collection will be immediate, enabling medical services to react quickly if issues arise. Such sensors, alongside wearable monitoring devices, will save the NHS time and money, helping to speed up hospital discharges and reducing readmission rates. In the USA, it’s been reported that remote patient monitoring can save up to $100 per appointment.
A third and incredible benefit of 5G to the health industry is that it opens up the possibility of remote surgery. With the network able to guarantee seamless remote-controlled activities, with no lag and real-time operation, it’s possible for surgeons to use robotic equipment on patients without being present in the hospital. This means patients can be treated by leading experts from all over the world, potentially improving survival rates.
Earlier this year, a Chinese surgeon became the first person to complete such an operation. Taking advantage of 5G’s low latency, which in this case meant a lag of just 0.1 seconds, the doctor was able to accurately control robotic arms in a hospital that was 30 miles away, removing the liver of a test animal.
Another industry that will benefit from 5G is automotive. Autonomous and connected cars are already being heavily researched, but the introduction of 5G will help significantly speed up their commercial launch.
For driverless cars to be safe on the roads, they need to be able to instantly respond to multiple and ever-changing stimuli. This is where 5G’s low latency and impressive reliability once again proves useful, as its signal should be strong and consistent enough to be able to react to obstacles without delay.
If enough vehicles on the road become connected, there’s also the potential for advanced traffic control. Cars, vans and lorries could be part of a system that automatically reroutes them to the quickest paths, dispersing traffic evenly. Traffic lights could also grow more intelligent, using 5G-powered sensors to vary the time of each light in order to best control the flow of vehicles.
All of these innovations should shorten journeys and commutes, increasing productivity for businesses and reducing the stress of those travelling.
5G-enabled vehicles could also benefit the construction sector, improving both efficiency and safety. The improvements to safety mainly come from the increased availability of remote operation. The low latencies of 5G mean that workers will be able to operate machinery from a distance without sacrificing precision or accuracy. Volvo, for example, are testing remote-controlled vehicles which use 5G to autonomously reach dangerous sections of construction sites.
In recent years, technology has become more advanced and connected than ever before, with virtual reality and the internet of things (IoT) growing increasingly prominent in everyday life. However, such innovations are yet to fully realise their potential and 5G could be the catalyst for this to change.
Just as 4G helped launch the app revolution in recent years, the arrival of 5G could possibly usher in another wave of software development. It will not only enhance existing technology and applications but will enable new IoT uses, such as device-to-device public safety communication, which cannot currently be achieved using 4G.
Virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) rely on fast and consistent connection speeds and therefore 5G’s low latency could be revolutionary. With zero lag, VR experiences will be significantly more life-like, while the rapid data processing will enable AI devices to assess and respond to input with astonishing speed.
As IoT has long promised, it will be possible for devices from all areas of life to be seamlessly connected, transforming the way we live our lives.
While it will probably take some time before all of the business benefits of 5G are realised, it is clear that there is enormous scope to transform industries.
From enabling more people to work remotely, to giving greater internet access to rural areas, 5G has the potential to drastically change the way UK companies do business. It will encourage innovation in all sectors, with businesses striving to take advantage of the new network’s impressive capabilities.
5G could create completely new industries, as well as present new opportunities in existing ones, such as drastically improving current processes, products and services. To encourage such progress, the government offers substantial Corporation Tax relief for companies investing in research and development. The funds received through the R&D Tax Credit scheme can reduce the financial pressure on research, helping UK companies to lead the way in their sectors.
If your company is investing in research and development, see if you could qualify for the R&D Tax Credit scheme by talking to one of our advisors.