The fifth generation of ever-faster connections is coming: in addition to smartphones, it will give life (and the Net) to the objects around us.
A medical luminary is traveling, sitting in an airport lounge, waiting for a flight, and wearing a hi-tech glove.
On the other side of the planet, a robotic “finger” connected via the Web to the glove explores the body of a patient: it is looking for nodules in the soft tissues.
As soon as the surgeon, thanks to a vibration, feels one, he begins to operate from a distance, using the same robot that shows him live images of the operating table on the laptop.
“It sounds like science fiction,” explains Mischa Dohler, a professor of wireless communications at King’s College London, “but it’s just one of the countless possibilities allowed by 5G, the fifth generation of mobile networks. His arrival is imminent, and will bring a revolution not only in health care but in many fields ».
But what is 5G? Let’s find out together.
1. From China
To better understand what it is, just visit Shanghai, and precisely the research laboratories of Huawei, the Chinese telephony giant that in addition to producing smartphones is a world leader in the creation of those antennas that are used to connect to the Internet with the mobile phone.
«First of all, the starting speed of 5G is 1 gigabit per second, 10 times faster than what 4G had when it arrived on the market. Secondly, the waiting time necessary to get a response from the Net when we look for information will drop from 15-20 milliseconds today to one ».
And this will make it possible, in fact, to carry out a surgical operation at a distance. “Finally, a 5G antenna will allow a number of connections 10 times higher than those made possible by a 4G”.
The arrival of 5G, which according to forecasts will take place within a couple of years, is the culmination of renewal started in 1982 with 1G technology that only allowed phone calls.
If the possibility of talking to each other on the move has remained almost unchanged since then, with the progressive arrival of 2G, 3G, and 4G, the speed of data transmission has increased and consequently the services available on the phone: SMS, email, Internet, WhatsApp, social networks and video at ever higher resolution.
The ability to download the same data that optical fiber offers today, says Zou, “will lead to an explosion of the” Internet of Things “: in 3 or 4 years, each of us will go out taking with us not only the smartphone but dozens of connected and intelligent objects, such as watches, bags, shoes, clothes and so on ».
Basically, everything can be equipped with a chip to communicate online with other systems. Among the connected objects, the most revolutionary will undoubtedly be the self-driving car, which will need to connect and exchange information in real-time with the other vehicles and infrastructure of the city.
“The (practically) immediate transfer of data will guarantee, in dangerous situations, a vehicle response even faster than human reflexes, which are 5-10 milliseconds,” explains Zou.
2. Like a highway
But how does a 5G antenna transmit at such high speeds?
If you compare data packets to cars, you can imagine that 4G is like a two-lane road, while 5G is like an 8-lane highway, on which it is, therefore, possible to speed up transmission and increase traffic.
This will allow you to reach speeds of 20 gigabits per second in download: that is, you can download a movie in HD in less than a second.
A technology called full-duplex will work on these highways, which allows you to transmit and receive data on the same frequency as if two people were talking to each other on the phone (understanding each other).
The technology of 5G antennas, compared to 4G ones, has merit: it transmits too many more people simultaneously. But it also has a flaw: a more limited range.
However, 5G repeaters work like those street lamps that light up the road only when a car passes by and then goes out; in practice, the system is much more efficient than those in use today.
In Italy, the third country in the world for the spread of smartphones (after South Korea and Hong Kong), for once we are at the forefront, with the 5G experimentation already started in Bari, Matera, Prato, L’Aquila, and Milan.
In the Lombard capital, Vodafone has launched 41 test projects together with various public and private partners.
Among these there is, for example, LIFE: it involves the use of clothes equipped with sensors with which to measure various vital parameters to monitor the health of people at risk, recognizing and communicating any critical situations in real-time.
Yale, on the other hand, is a self-driving electric vehicle intended for delivery.
The police will also test the 5G connection speed, with the CODE system to access the databases in the field and transmit the images collected by the Body Cams on the agents in real-time. Thus the field investigations will be more efficient.
Politecnico di Milano, on the other hand, wants to exploit innovation and is planning an immersive learning system through mixed reality.
“Today students use Google and YouTube for their research,” explains Zou, “but tomorrow, instead of seeing a video for research on the Great Wall, they will wear a helmet and visit it, as if they were on the spot. “
4. New antennas
The last obstacle before realizing this vision concerns the identification of the radio frequencies on which to transmit, that is, the space in which to put the “highways” to pass the data.
There are two hypotheses: gradually free those assigned to 2G, 3G, and 4G, or use much higher frequencies, the so-called “millimeter waves”, which however will require the installation of a number of antennas 5 or 10 times higher than those present today in the cities.
Among other things, since the radius covered by each will be less than the current one, the power will also be less, and consequently, there will be fewer health risks.
The final decision, taken in agreement with the governments, will have a strong impact: thousands of antennas will have to be installed, and that is why Huawei is studying the possibility of installing them on new Hitech light poles.
The Chinese company has just signed an agreement to transform the German Duisburg into a smart city based on autonomous driving and industry 4.0.
Even urban planners will have to worry about where to place hundreds of antennas while preserving the city landscape.