How 5G technology is already changing cities

With faster wireless networks rolling out worldwide, cities and businesses are gearing up for the transformation

May 17, 2019

Telecom companies are racing to roll out 5G networks across the world, kick-starting a new generation of internet connectivity that will supercharge businesses from retail to automobiles.

While 5G is expected to be introduced gradually over the next few years, there’s already one place to look for an example of things to come — South Korea. Seoul became the first city in the world to offer 5G in April, when it was launched by SK Telecom, KT (Korean Telecom), and LG Uplus.

With claimed speeds of 20-times faster than 4G speeding up downloads for users, the technologies involved will open doors for industries to change how they think about, and what they do with, greater connectivity.

U.S. network operators have said they’ll start operating 5G this year. Japan is pledging to have a fully-functioning 5G network by 2022. Singapore is set to have theirs within two years.

In the meantime, “many will be watching the developments of 5G in South Korea for a guide to what comes next,” says Sungmin Park, head of Korea research at JLL.

The South Korean government has invested heavily into creating the infrastructure required, with 54,000 5G base stations across the country.

“The government wants to demonstrate that by launching the technology first they have the technological edge, as well as the capability to a build 5G ecosystem which they could sell to other countries or employ to advance other relevant sectors,” Park says.

Truly Smart Cities

Mobile users in the Korean capital have been the first to experience the speed advantages of 5G on their mobile devices.

But some of the biggest impacts will be in how 5G is employed to create smart cities, a concept where sensors and data-collection become part of the urban fabric.

For instance, SK Telecom is helping develop 5G based self-driving infrastructure for driverless-public transport and government vehicles.

Their 5G ecosystem is being developed across the 133-square-kilometer Incheon Free Economic Zone, an area that’s comprised of Songdo, Cheongna and the island of Yeongjong. It’s designed to attract foreign investment and stimulate economic activity.

“Self-driving technology is being developed faster and to a higher standard because of the processing power and abilities of 5G, allowing for elements such as Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) that rely on large and fast data transfer to work better and more efficiently,” says Park

Smart doctor

The healthcare industry could also see major changes because of 5G. The technology could allow for tools such as real-time video conferencing for surgeons, allowing them to conduct surgeries with the guidance of another doctor in a completely different part of the world with hardly any delay.

A fully-integrated 5G hospital is being developed in South Korea with SK Telecom and Yonsei University Health System. The centre will see tools such as voice-activated A.I. assistants for patients and facial-recognition technology.

“Any delivery of technologies like A.I. could further progress how we and other industries operate, providing better user experiences as a result,” Park says.

Although still in early development, this could become the standard, leading to more developers investing heavily in talent and the technology, he says.

Revolutionary Potential

The aim of 5G is to create a fully-connected Internet of Things (IoT), which would bring major efficiencies for businesses and individuals. This is what could make smart cities a reality.

For some areas, the reality is still a ways off. However, 5G could bring changes to retail sector sooner than later, Park says. For instance, it could deliver instant stock updates to customers, or allow customers to experience products in augmented reality (AR), transforming the retail experience and the industry.

“Retail chains which are keen to develop IoT technologies or cashier-less stores could attract more customers and benefit the retail sector,” Park says.

As demand for fast and reliable connectivity becomes the norm, landlords, property owners or developers could find 5G key to attracting clients to their spaces. It also allows clients to experience spaces in virtual reality and become a useful sales tool.

“The technology has the ability to bring progress at a rapid rate,” Park says. “We’ll see how the potential can become reality in Seoul.”