5G: The Road ahead for buildings and cities

As a building manager or owner, would you like to streamline processes, boost returns and improve sustainability performance? Who wouldn’t! The answer, in part, lies with 5G – the fifth-generation wireless network currently being rolled out in countries around the globe.

5G technology, unlike its predecessors, can be used in closed, ‘ecosystem’ environments, in a particular building or facility, with the network also able to scale up to cover a whole urban area.

In the closed environment of a building, 5G has the capacity to deliver private, secure and reliable communications.  Most importantly, it is set to unleash the full power of the Internet of Things, allowing for machines, objects and devices to ‘talk’ to each other in real time, while being tracked remotely.

“5G is likely to have a huge impact on the real estate sector. It is set to impact not only buildings – making them more efficient and modifying how people use them – but also mobility and the provision of public services. It will enable smart cities to move from concept to reality.” Andy Pyle, head of UK real estate, KPMG


5G set to unleash $4.3 trillion in value

“In the new 5G world, capacity, reliability, latency, bandwidth and efficiency will be transformational,” says KPMG, which estimates that 5G will unleash US$4.3 trillion in value across business sectors.

This value, writes Alex Holt, global head of telecoms & media, KPMG, will come from:

  • Machine-enhanced decision making
  • Data-rich environments
  • Visualisation
  • Agile automation
  • Intelligent efficiency
  • Trusted connections

For some, it will be as transformative as the invention of electricity or the arrival of the motor car.


New standards set for 5G: the role of 3GPP

The standards for 5G, which arrives ten years after the launch of its predecessor 4G, are being set by the organisation 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).

The first full set of 5G standards, 3GPP Release 15, aimed at the consumer market, was launched last year.

This ‘vanilla 5G’, as The New York Times calls the current consumer version of 5G, is only slightly faster than 4G. The main benefit is faster latency – the time lag, for example, between pressing play on an online video and the video starting.

The roll out of 5G’s next set of 3GPP standards, Release 16, is set for this year.  These standards offer the scope to achieve lower latency (5 milliseconds or less, estimates London-based self-driving vehicle organisation Zenzic) and higher speeds (at least 1 gigabit per second compared with 30 megabits per second for 4G).

Release 16 performs the following, says Deloitte:

  • The same speeds as for a wired connection for devices responding to other devices over a network.
  • The connection of up to one million IoT sensors and devices per square kilometre, which Deloitte calls ‘massive machine-type communications’.
  • A fall in energy consumption of around 90%.


Small base stations replace cellular towers

 5G uses a higher radio frequency spectrum than previous wireless networks, with the wavelengths travelling shorter distances.  This requires a denser network of small transmitter masts, or base stations, compared with the cellular towers used for 4G.

This is also set to change the nature of data centres, says JLL.

Data centres were often large buildings in the outskirts of major cities. But the arrival of 5G requires them to be constructed in dense urban areas in order to improve latency.”JLL

Although not directly connected, this development of smaller data centres spread out across urban areas mirrors how e-commerce and same-day delivery has impacted the warehouse market.

Scaling the 5G effect to a city level – at a cost

The efficiencies and increased performance gained from 5G on a building level can be scaled up to a city level, with IoT sensors and controllers using data to manage such things as traffic, waste collection and air quality.

This data can be feed directly into city councils and also provide citizens with instant information about transport, health services and safety.

However, the need for a denser coverage of base stations means that 5G will cost more to deploy than previous generations of mobile connectivity.

In the European Union, the European Commission estimates that the cost of reaching the target of 5G in all urban areas will be around €500bn by 2025.

“When 5G networks become publicly accessible and rolled out within or across cities, an array of industries will be positioned to unlock value” – KPMG


KPMG estimates that cities will take between two and six years for value to start to emerge for certain industries, such as healthcare, mobility and professional services, together with live entertainment and customer experiences using AR or VR.


An accelerator for self-driving vehicles

Daniel Ruiz, CEO of Zenzic, the UK body bringing together industry, government and academia in the UK around the self-driving ecosystem, says that 5G will unlock the full potential of self-driving vehicles, or CAM, the connected and automated industry, as it is known in the sector.

The arrival of 5G is a “keystone moment in the CAM sector’s quest to see connected and autonomous vehicles on UK roads by 2030,” Daniel Ruiz, Zenzic

5G offers  “additional layers of services and possibilities”.

The potential of the 5G technology for self-driving vehicles lies in:

  • Speed: quicker and more efficient communication will mean that 5G-equipped vehicles will receive information over five times faster than a 4G-equipped vehicle from cars further down the road.
  • Reliability: vital for ensuring that self-driving vehicles run as safely as possible.
  • Capacity: connected self-driving vehicles tested in the UK, says Zenzic, routinely produce up to, if not more than 4TB of data every day. 5G has a much “fatter pipe”, writes Ruiz.

Legislation and policies need to be developed in tandem with technology, says Ruiz.  With this in mind, Zenzic has developed a Connected & Automated Mobility Roadmap to 2030. The roadmap outlines not only the technical and infrastructural steps but also the legislative steps for the safe and efficient deployment of connected and self-driving vehicles.


International body confirms the safety of 5G

Fears about new technology – and this includes 5G – are nothing new, wrote Melissa Dickson of the University of Oxford for the World Economic Forum.

Switzerland, for example, placed an indefinite moratorium on the use of its new 5G network earlier this year, citing health concerns over the higher frequencies and the “billions” of additional connections.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is currently conducting a health risk assessment from exposure to radio frequencies, covering the entire radio frequency range, including 5G, which is due to be published in 2022.

However, earlier this month the International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the Germany-based scientific body that assesses the health risks of radio broadcasts, confirmed that ‘Yes, 5G is safe’.

Our connected world is only set to become even more connected.


Top Image – Getty Images: metamorworks

About Author

Georgina Power is a freelance Communications Consultant and Editor. Her previous positions include: Head of Corporate Communications at McArthurGlen Group, European PR Manager at Cushman & Wakefield and a freelance journalist for EuroProperty.

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