The World of Connectivity
The time of 5G and 6G technology standards for cellular networks will soon be at hand, with 5G already present in some global cities and 6G perhaps just a decade away. In the fifth episode of Zero Pressure podcast series two, Dr Helen Sharman finds out how this advanced connectivity will transform the way we live and work.
Improved efficiency in manufacturing; smart cities with smart systems and driverless vehicles; more precise positioning and navigation; widespread use of drones to deliver goods; augmented reality entertainment: these are just some of the many possibilities that will be offered by the widespread use of 5G and 6G technology in cellular networks.
In this fifth episode of the second series of the Zero Pressure podcast from Imperial College London and Saab, host Dr Helen Sharman discovers how quicker, more robust, lower latency networks will provide more consistent communications across our world. However, with that extra capability comes the responsibility to insure ourselves against increased risks of cyber-attacks.
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Some of 5G’s main benefits
Helen’s main guest is Dr Magnus Frodigh, Vice President and Head of Research at Ericsson, where he’s held various key senior positions in research and development and product management, notably with the evolution of standards and 6G.
Dr Frodigh, who is also Adjunct Professor in Wireless Infrastructures at KTH Royal University of Stockholm, explains that 5G is already being used in some early-adopter areas, for the likes of body cameras and early versions of augmented reality glasses. But while consumers using 5G will notice greater capacity, higher data rates and shorter delays compared with their current 3G and 4G, Dr Frodigh says the changes will be just an evolution of what they experience already.
However, he believes that the potential for industry is much more significant.
“There will be more profound effects from using the technology in supply chains in manufacturing, in following the products when they are on the market and even controlling the products when they are out on the market. You can remotely control them, or you can have intelligence on board that is able to communicate with other machines on top of this technology,” he explains.
Another key application will be in ‘smart cities’, using 5G to power the sensors that will effectively, in Dr Frodigh’s words, help driverless cars “see round corners” and optimise control of traffic crossings to help make our streets safer.
Greater risks, but cautious defence industry interest
Helen Sharman also finds out why 5G brings greater risks to manage, although not to our health, as some have claimed. Another guest on the episode, Monisha Ghosh, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Notre Dame University, Indiana, and formerly Chief Technical Officer at the US Federal Communications Commission, says that there is no evidence to suggest this.
Instead, the risks centre on what a third guest Rajan Luthra calls the “unavoidable reality” of cyber threats, due to the diversity of applications and the scale of deployment of 5G.
Luthra, a telecoms expert and Head of Special Projects at India’s biggest company Reliance Industries, calls for a five-stage protocol to mitigate the risks, including: geopolitical alliances, an evolution of data privacy laws and cyber security technology to keep up with the connectivity advances, and a wider adoption of a rigorous approach to cybersecurity, with widespread scanning for threats.
As the bandwidth increases and the capabilities of these new technologies expand, could the defence industry make use of 5G and, in the future, 6G, instead of needing to build their own private networks?
Monisha Ghosh says that while the defence industry is certainly researching the possibilities, due to the potential cost saving and flexibility benefits, there is still danger without adequate security, pointing to the recent deaths of people in the Ukraine war who were essentially “trapped by the networks” that identified their positions to the enemy.
Future 5G and 6G applications
Where the new technology does have applications is in aerospace, as well as positioning and navigation technology (PNT).
“We’ll use it for drone activities, such as smart delivery,” says Dr Frodigh. “There will be a lot of them, so we’ll need to connect them and have air traffic control. The capabilities of the mobile infrastructure will be key.”
And passengers in planes will, through a combination of satellite connectivity and 5G, be able to access in-flight connectivity, due to the ability of antennae to be directed upwards to provide greater capacity when needed, making for a seamless gate-to-gate connectivity experience.
“PNT will be improved with higher bandwidths, and if we invest extra in our communications network, we can even use it for the positioning of a factory,” Dr Frodigh ads. He says it will have benefits for timing and factory automation.
By Dr Frodigh’s estimate, 6G is perhaps no more than a decade away, offering an “extra boost” to the capabilities introduced by 5G, and providing huge new capacity for use in high-density, localised areas.
And he concludes his conversation with Helen Sharman by saying that the positives of the technology outweigh the benefits:
“I’m confident it won’t affect our heath unless we choose to be physically inactive through all the experiences that it offers!”
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