5G: Four ways it could make a real difference

The continued rollout of 5G will impact various industries in many ways. Here's a few to watch out for.
Written by Allison Murray, Staff Writer

The deployment of 5G has taken a few years, and the major mobile carriers are still rolling out their 5G networks. However, 5G companies are hoping that 2022 is a pivotal year for 5G and the time – finally – when some of its promise is realized. Here are a few of the sectors where the new mobile technology could make an impact.

5G and Driving

There are already safety features in many vehicles like rear cross-traffic alerts, collision warnings, and automatic emergency braking, and 5G connectivity would take these features further.

Last year, Honda and Verizon announced how they plan to utilize 5G in future vehicles as envisaged by Honda's Safe Swarm project. The idea of this initiative is to allows vehicles to communicate with other road users or devices (like cameras or traffic lights) and share critical information such as location, speed, and vehicle sensor data. The two companies said that using 5G would reduce the need for onboard artificial intelligence in vehicles to process data.

If every car were outfitted with this type of tech using 5G, it would help increase the safety of pedestrian crossings and warn drivers about approaching emergency vehicles, or warn of vehicles running a red light at an intersection. In addition, the research will help further the development of autonomous vehicles and fleet vehicles that could benefit from the inclusion of 5G.

Other auto makers such as Porsche, General Motors, and Toyota are also betting on 5G in future models. Analyst Gartner predicts that the share of 5G-connected cars actively connected to a 5G service will grow to 74% in 2023 and reach 94% by 2028.

5G and Healthcare

A major industry that could see an impact from 5G is healthcare.

"When I think about the implication of any technology for healthcare, I think about how it will impact patients' lives. And from a 5G standpoint, it's concepts that have existed in the market that 5G enables and brings to life in a real way. So, for example, things like remote patient monitoring," Sheetal Chawla, the vice president and head of life sciences for technology consulting firm Capgemini Americas, tells ZDNet.

Chawla says that because of advancements in 5G, patients could receive a digitally encrypted prescription from their physician – such as one making an alteration to their pacemaker – without ever leaving their home. 5G in conjunction with wearable devices could allow for real-time monitoring of health conditions. And 5G has also opened the doors for doctors and medical experts to reach patients remotely, such as those who live in rural areas that wouldn't otherwise be able to access the expertise needed to help treat their condition.

Perhaps most importantly, Chawla says that 5G has the potential to positively impact the overall cost of healthcare.

"5G takes healthcare to health savings," she says. "By capturing data and having personalized outcomes, we're able to manage the spend on healthcare in a much better way."

5G and the Metaverse

Big Tech companies like Meta (formerly Facebook) are proposing the 'Metaverse' as a place where people virtually interact with each other using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tools.

To access the metaverse with these devices, 5G will be critical. First, to connect to the immersive and real-time metaverse without lots and lots of cables, you are going to need a fast wireless data connection, and if you want to be able to roam about while doing it, that probably means you'll need 5G if you want a richer and more realistic metaverse experience.  

In addition, and perhaps more importantly, 5G's low latency also allows for better remote rendering, even limiting the possibility of motion sickness that some people get from using VR.

5G also paves the way for smaller and less bulky headwear. Right now, metaverse experiences need to be downloaded locally. The implementation of 5G would remove the need for heat-generating components of headsets on the market and bring down their cooling and power needs.

5G and Education

Many experts view the future of learning as collaborative, and 5G is one such way that the vision can become a reality. One current example of an immersive and collaborative learning experience is the 5G Innovation Hub at Arizona State University's (ASU) Learning Futures. As part of a decade-old partnership between ASU and Verizon, the new hub provides a unique way for students to learn that wasn't previously possible.

"We've largely been tethered in our learning environments with either our computers or laptops," ASU CIO Lev Gonick tells ZDNet. "We have now figured out how to untether and make it possible for nomadic immersive experiences for compelling learning."

The Innovation Hub uses VR and AR headsets connected to Verizon's 5G and the Dreamscape Learn program, where students experience things like a virtual fighter pilot training, a day in the life of certain careers, or being dropped into an immersive world to study creatures rather than being tied down to the limits of a regular biology lab.

Gonick says he got a glimpse into the lab, which officially opens this month, and believes it will be disruptive and transformational for education.

"We have data that shows that in terms of testing, students do better [through immersive learning] when compared to a group of students who do it 'the old way,'" Gonick says. "Students are actually performing better on formative testing as well as summative testing, and they also believe that they're learning more through the immersive experience."

Maggie Hallbach, the vice president of business development and strategic sales for the public sector at Verizon, and the executive lead for Verizon's 5G partnership with ASU, says that she sees virtual reality completely changing the way students get access to content that helps them make a better sense of the world.

"We think that this is a technology that is going to help them keep pace and keep us solving some of the world's biggest challenges," she says. 

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