5G For Smart Cities & Intelligent Infrastructure
How The Next Generation Of Wireless Can Change Cities
How will the next generation of wireless networking technology affect our lives in the next few years? 5G, fifth generation mobile communications, has great potential to shape how cities work and communicate. I will discuss how it can transform urban areas across the world into “smart cities”. I am going to use Los Angeles, CA (USA) as an example for how 5G can be deployed. We will go over 4 neighborhoods in the city to show how transformative 5G can be. The views presented here will be my own based on how the technology can be applied.
Before we go to LA, let me give a background of what 5G technology is. In a condensed summary, 5G is a wireless communications standard that is the successor of current 4G LTE networks. 5G has the potential to deliver faster data rates, higher bandwidth and lower latency. That means effortless streaming of video at UHD 4K resolution at more than 60 fps, 0 to no lag on cloud collaboration systems, immersive AR/VR gaming, instant download speeds and supports higher bandwidth communications applications. This will allow emerging technologies like self-driving cars, remote surgery and smooth streaming video. You can read more about 5G from an article I wrote on Hackernoon at this link.
LA is a sprawling, bustling metropolis on the US west coast. It enjoys a warm and sunny climate that has become the envy of the rest of the world because the weather seems so “perfect”. It does suffer the problems of modern cities which are traffic, pollution and congestion. You have a city of millions of not just people, but also cars and other vehicles. LA has a very advanced wireless communications system operated by big telecom that provides mobile services to subscribers using 4G LTE. Currently this provides peak speeds of up to 100 Mbps for data, though peak speeds are hardly attainable due to many factors like signal degradation, data congestion and poor signal coverage. 5G will address those issues by increasing peak speeds up to 20 Gbps with low latency (minimum lag). That is the main feature of the 5G network.
Now how would this affect Los Angeles?
Downtown Los Angeles is ideal for high speed communications. One feature of 5G are millimeter wave small cell towers, that require installation at a distance of no less than 200 feet and no more than 1,000 feet apart. This is called a dense deployment because the small cell towers are very close to each other. For a national deployment it would require perhaps hundreds of thousands of small cell towers. It will also require plenty of fiber optic cabling installations to distribute signals to concentrators that interface with other networks, particularly public IP networks i.e. the Internet.
There are some public concerns regarding the safety of these small cells since they are so closely installed to where people live and work. It is just like a WiFi access point since bringing the signals closer in proximity is what allows high speed data transfers without the signals degrading. 5G signals require this dense deployment since one drawback of the signaling is it cannot easily penetrate buildings and can be easily absorbed by moisture and foliage. This is why the small cells need to be placed closer in proximity.
Imagine you were driving along Broadway headed toward Staples Center to watch a Lakers game. With 5G an app can identify where you are going and it can help you find parking and provide information about the game before it starts. You can watch previews from live streaming video straight to your smartphone from the broadcast booth. 5G can also stream UHD footage of the game live if it is available.
The use of a smart or intelligent infrastructure that uses a 5G network backbone can enable new services. The thought of the parking structure at Staples being able to communicate with drivers via their smartphone on where to park to avoid any congestion and delays is surely great. Traffic lights can also communicate with one another to optimize conditions to prevent gridlock. This infrastructure also called “V2I” or Vehicle-To-Infrastructure can allow self-driving cars to “talk” with infrastructure like roads, traffic lights, bridges, parking structures and freeways using a form of DSRC with 5G.
One other problem in downtown is finding actual parking spaces. You usually end up parking many blocks away. Intelligent systems can solve this problem using low latency apps that continuously monitor and update parking spaces around the city. With an app like this, it will be easier to find parking. If available, self-driving cars can use the app and park the car for you. That saves time and provides less stress and allows you to focus on where you are going.
This part of LA is a plush area in the middle between the beach and downtown. There are many residential areas as well as rows of apartments and commercial centers. The Grove, Farmers Market, Hancock Park and Larchmont are in this area that borders Korea Town and Mid-City. It is densely populated, and this is where next generation wireless can really be helpful.
5G may even replace wired Internet at home, though that would require similar price plans. Most users today use their smartphone to access data rather than a home computer. With even faster data speeds, the smartphone can be the only computer for the average user.
LA is a very diverse city with various ethnic neighborhoods and recently gentrified areas. 5G can allow specific ways for brands to target more people too for marketing purposes. This may sound intrusive, but this business model is how much of the Internet works. Using apps that can identify the location of a user, suggestions can be made on where to dine, do dry cleaning, grocery shopping and entertainment. The incentives are there for businesses while providing a service to users.
Installation of small cells in residential areas can use existing utility poles that a carrier may already own. It will be a tremendous boost to the user experience on their mobile devices. Websites will download instantaneously with the small cell within close proximity. The lag one experiences navigating around a website or playing games and streaming movies will be reduced.
The area between La Brea Avenue and Fairfax Avenue and from the Hollywood Hills down to Santa Monica Boulevard is a massive row of apartments, condos, houses and commercial buildings. This has always been the prime location for Angelenos to live at a high cost of living. 5G can be a part of that lifestyle as well.
This area includes various installations of solar powered panels that provide lighting and can also be used to provide power to small cell towers used in 5G networks. One benefit to residents in these areas is of course the speed of data transfers. Many residents in this area actually work from home. With faster speeds, access to bandwidth hungry apps like video conferencing, cloud collaboration and IoT (Internet-of-Things) devices will greatly improve. Some may no longer need a wired broadband service if the speeds are consistent enough and the price plans are competitive. Who wouldn’t want to switch from 25 Mbps cable Internet to faster 1 Gbps 5G?
Normally people go to a coffee shop to use the free WiFi after ordering something to drink. In the future more collaborative work spaces with 5G connections can become prevalent. They can still serve coffee, but with faster Internet.
Can 5G help lower the cost of living in area like these? Perhaps it can. Users can cut the cord on services like telephone landlines and cable service. Their 5G subscription will be all they’ll need for data and communications service. They can tether devices together at home to use their smartphone as an access point. Smart TV’s already have Internet capabilities to connect to the smartphone allowing users to stream video. Most people today don’t have time to keep up with scheduled television programming. The preference now is VOD (Video On Demand), streaming content from the Internet and social media.
Other ways 5G can lower costs is through more responsive apps that provide information and services. Rather than drive and spend money on gas, robo taxi services with fast network access via 5G can be used. Its low latency that allow the robot taxis to operate since they use the network for navigation. IoT devices that have 5G connectivity can also help save money by keeping users updated on when to buy and not buy groceries, find the most budget friendly takeout and delivery service and much more.
Santa Monica-Silicon Beach
We have one of the wealthiest neighborhoods and technology hubs in Los Angeles on the west side of the city. The stretch of sand from Santa Monica to Venice Beach has been dubbed “Silicon Beach”. Tech companies like Google, Yahoo and Snapchat have found refuge there. Other startups are also finding this area promising for business and development purposes.
Many technology professionals live in this part of the city. Since they are already tech savvy, they will tremendously benefit from 5G. This would be an ideal testbed for 5G and smart cities. This is because many of these residents are also early adopters when it comes to technology. When a new IoT device or mobile app rolls out, these are the people who want to use them first.
Many of these residents are used to making online payments, perhaps to order items from Amazon. Now they can configure their devices to pay automatically with better connectivity to external services. The idea involves M2M or Machine-to-Machine interaction. Those systems will need low latency and fast network speeds like what 5G can provide.
How else can 5G serve the community? In many ways. From emergency messaging services to more robust sensors that can help the city monitor crime, traffic and weather conditions. According to Digital Trends:
“Since 5G has remarkably low latency, remote control of heavy machinery will become a reality. While the primary aim is to reduce risk in hazardous environments, it will also allow technicians with specialized skills to control machinery from anywhere in the world.”
One service I can see 5G improving are the Mobility-as-a-Service offerings from electric scooter operators. 5G can allow them to better track their fleet of scooters to make sure they are accounted for and not a danger to the public. There have been some tensions with residents with how intrusive these scooters can be when they are left in front of driveways and next to people’s cars. They have become more of a nuisance to those who have to deal with them. There is also room to include more safety features into the scooters using AI to prevent accidents. The 5G network provides the bandwidth this system will need to operate. Likewise, this can help boost autonomous vehicles for transport and delivery services.
Before one delves into 5G, it will need to be rolled out first. This also requires hardware to support it. This means a mobile device that is 5G compatible. 5G is an important component for smart cities and intelligent infrastructure. It won’t immediately replace 4G, but enhances wireless network features. These are just some of the ways 5G can be applied to a city like Los Angeles. Eventually, we will see down the road how things go.