Connectivity is all about faster, better and increased data transfer between endpoints. The race for wireless connectivity, which started in 1979 with the first 1G technology in Tokyo implemented by the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), has led the world to 5G and 6G four decades later.
McKinsey Technology Trends Outlook 2022 reveals that advanced connectivity, including 5G, 6G, low-Earth orbit satellites and other technologies, is driving growth and productivity in all sectors with an investment of $166 billion in 2021. Unlike other new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) or mobility, the technology has a high adoption rate.
In a report shared by Market Research and Future to TechRepublic, the organization explains that the COVID-19 pandemic was a major catalyst for the global deployment of 5G.
With the power to transform industries faster, with more capacity and less latency, 5G technology will impact transportation, banking systems, traffic control, remote healthcare, agriculture, digitized logistics and more, says Market Research Future.
New technologies such as AI, machine learning, industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), new intelligent cars and augmented and virtual reality applications in the metaverse also require faster download times and more data communication in real time. 5G and 6G are expected to drive these new trends.
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Market Research and Future explains that the deployment of 5G is not without its challenges. The standardization of spectrum and the complexity of installing 5G networks are the most prominent. MIT Tech Review adds that 6G also faces challenges, requiring interdisciplinary innovation, new chips, new devices and software.
The technological challenges of 5G and 6G
The next generation of cellular technologies offering higher spectrum efficiency and high bandwidth have seen their share of the debate. As McKinsey explains, many are still wondering if 5G can completely replace the 4G LTE network and what percentage of the networks will have 5G.
By May 2022, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association had identified 493 operators in 150 countries investing in 5G technology and another 200 companies that had technology that could potentially be used for 5G. New announcements for smartphones with 5G increased by 164% at the end of 2020 and cataloged 5G devices by 60%.
While new consumer products have quickly adapted to 5G capabilities, industrial and business devices have not.
“Moving from 4G LTE to private 5G may not be cost-effective for all players; this would depend on a player’s technological ambitions and planned use cases,” said McKinsey.
Market Research Future explains that $61.4 billion is driving this highly competitive market, which is expected to reach $689.6 billion by 2027. But suppliers of infrastructure equipment, devices and software have held back growth.
MIT explains that 6G shares similar challenges with 5G, but also presents new ones. 6G engineers must work on infrastructure, devices and software to build the next generation of communication systems. 6G connectivity cannot be achieved by simply scaling or updating current technology.
MIT adds that 6G uses more advanced active antenna systems, which can be further integrated using other radio access technologies such as WLAN (wireless local area network), Bluetooth, UWB (ultra-broadband), and satellite. To fit all this technology into a smartphone, components such as chips and radio transceiver technology have to be redesigned.
“This requires highly creative electrical and computing technology, as well as disruptive industrial engineering and energy management,” explains MIT.
New 6G chips are essential to handle the increased computing power. Low latency – the capacity to process a very large number of data messages with minimal delay – is already a challenge for 5G and will be even more challenging with 6G technology.
Low latency is essential for interactive data, real-time data and applications, and virtual environments or digital twins. These are all requirements for AI, the metaverse and the industrial sector. 6G latency is reduced by using nearby devices, creating a signal on a three-dimensional network.
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To solve these problems, new semiconductor materials, intelligent surfaces, AI and digital twin technology developments are being used to test concepts, develop prototypes and manage and improve the network.
McKinsey emphasizes that 5G has proven that only a few telecommunications companies have been able to monetize 5G enough to achieve a good return on investment (ROI). Therefore, capital expenditures and maintenance costs will also be closely monitored. In addition, large capital investments are required to build new technology and networks, which presents another business challenge.
Boosting Connectivity: The Industrial Disruption
At its factory in Dresden, Germany, Volkswagen replaced wired connections between machines and now updates finished cars with over-the-air updates and connects driverless vehicles to edge cloud servers. Michelin uses new connectivity technologies for real-time inventory management, and Bosch equipped their first factory with 5G, enabling automation, connecting hundreds of endpoints and synchronizing robotics with human factory workers. These are just a few examples McKinsey gives of how advanced connectivity is disrupting industries.
Connectivity is expected to increase the annual rate of data creation by up to 25%, connect 51.9 billion devices by 2025 and impact global GDP (gross domestic product) by more than $2 trillion. In addition, 5G and 6G are expected to help close the digital divide, enabling hundreds of millions of people to connect for the first time.
In the automotive and assembly sectors, 5G and 6G are being used to improve maintenance and navigation, prevent collisions and drive the first fleets of autonomous vehicles. Healthcare equipment and sensors connected to low-latency networks will improve patient treatment and monitoring with real-time data, significantly impacting the treatment of patients with chronic diseases that require constant checkups.
Aerospace and defense are using 5G to increase their capacity and performance, while retail has improved inventory management, supply chain coordination and payment processes, and created metaverse experiences through technology. The construction and construction industry is printing 3D structures and adopting high-speed digital twins and applications, and the mining and natural resources industry is turning to smart exploration and exploitation with the digitization of practices and automation of operations.
Leaders from almost every industry are considering adopting new connectivity technologies. McKinsey says they should view advanced connectivity as a key enabler of revolutionary possibilities. From digital transformations to driving efficiencies through automation and enabling technologies that rely on high-performance connectivity, such as cloud computing and IoT, connectivity will continue to be the way the world works and lives.