How 5G unlocks smart cities

19 April 2018

For city planners, the great promise of a 5G network is the ability to deliver on the promises of smart cities. While much of the technology required for smart cities already exists, the capacity for the technology to operate in real time across an interconnected network has been held back by the current network standards.

However, analysts are tipping 5G will reduce these barriers and spur the development of more applications to enhance citizens’ lives.

5G is set to be a significant jump from its predecessor, and much more so than the jump to 4G from 3G. For consumers, the upgrades are obvious – greater speed and data capacity. However, unlike previous generation jumps, 5G has been designed to support several new specific uses in addition to speed and capacity upgrades.

This enablement, which will help spur the development of smart cities, is the “real payoff” of 5G according to a new whitepaper from Axicom, 5G, How ready is Australia for the next generation.

The authors say 5G and the infrastructure it supports will provide the bedrock for smart cities. “Urban planners and city administrators are looking to 5G to provide a platform on which to build applications that enhance the daily lives of their citizens and bring greater efficiency to the delivery of municipal services.”

In addition to the impressive speeds that 5G will provide (up to 10Gbps), the technology will also feature considerably lower latency of one millisecond — a critical requirement of Internet of Things (IoT) and autonomous technology that feature heavily in smart cities.

5G also allows for network slicing – the ability to segment 5G services to match device and application requirements. Additionally, users can be isolated from others when required, therefore improving security. It’s a significant change from today’s networks where, with few exceptions, devices are treated equally.

Put simply, 5G means the technology and applications that underpin smart cities can “talk” to each other in near real-time in a more secure way. It unlocks a host of possibilities when it comes to municipal services and smart cities. Some of which are already being trialled.

Smart cities are already here
Germany’s second largest city seems a challenging place to trial a smart city. But the success of Hamburg’s smart city initiative – City of innovations, city of the future, suggests the payoffs of smart cities occur quickly.

In Hamburg, citizens can access public and private transport through a single mobile application. If they choose to take the bus, it can be fast tracked through traffic lights to maintain its schedule. Citizens also enjoy a robust e-government service including video kiosks.

Hamburg Senator of Economic Affairs, Frank Horch, sees the smart city initiative as a way of driving innovation and preparing for the future.

“The opportunities presented through the networking of people, processes, data, and things will not only drive progress in the cities and municipalities but also offer citizens greater convenience and therefore a higher quality of life,” Horch said.

Earlier this year the city of Hamburg announced they would pursue their smart city program with the introduction of a 5G. The new network was described as a “powerful lever for many applications”.

The early results of smart city trials and the implementation of 5G networks — including others cities like the Gold Coast and Spain’s Segovia — indicate the next generation network will be critical for future smart city developments. However, implementation is easier said than done.

The small cell challenge for smart cities
5G will require significant upgrades to infrastructure. According to the Axicom whitepaper, one of the key infrastructure challenges revolves around “small cells”.

The Millimetre waves used to carry the 5G signal don’t travel well through physical obstacles, nor do they respond well to bad weather. That’s a problem for the current network infrastructure which usually comes in the form of high power, long distance broadcast towers.

Download: 5G: How ready is Australia for the next generation?

The Millimetre waves utilised by 5G are better served by small cells — smaller, more frequently placed network infrastructure. According to the Axicom report, that presents challenges and the need for planning.

“Each small cell site requires permissions from landowners and or local authorities, power and a backhaul link. The administrative and logistical hurdles for each site may be almost as great as for a macro cell,” the authors said.

Ultimately it means the necessary 5G infrastructure will be a challenge. But as the benefits of smart cities have shown, it could be well worth it.

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