Nearly four decades after the introduction of the first generation of mobile networks (1G), four additional generations have rolled out — and now 5G is beginning wide-scale deployment. Each new generation has offered significantly more speed than the previous one: 5G is approximately 10 times faster than 4G, and 10,000 times faster than 1G. But 5G brings much more than higher speeds — it brings much lower latency (or lag times), improved network and transmission reliability, the ability to connect many more devices, and the ability to “slice” or create devoted sections of network to a single application.
This means that in addition to improving data speeds on cell phones, it will become possible to remotely control machinery and equipment (often called IoT or Internet of Things applications), as well as enabling new data collection, visualization, and artificial intelligence applications. Those applications include such things as autonomous vehicles and interaction with traffic control systems. E-health applications will become much more effective through the use of higher definition video streaming and wearable devices recording and transmitting vital patient information. Using low latency, high-bandwidth connectivity will enable streaming of high-definition videos in real time, allowing fans to “virtually” attend sporting events and concerts.
There are presently three 5G network providers in Canada — Rogers introduced its first 5G networks in early 2020 (in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montréal, and Toronto); Bell and Telus activated 5G networks in June 2020 in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, and Montréal. Numerous device providers, including cell phone providers Apple and Samsung, introduced 5G devices at the same time.
At the same time, Rogers introduced 5G “testbed” partnerships at the University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, and University of Waterloo, providing funding and a 5G infrastructure to enable researchers and smaller companies the opportunity to develop 5G applications.
5G networks are expected to rapidly become a cornerstone of city infrastructure development worldwide. Increasing urbanization and the need to cope with challenges in population growth, resource consumption, congestion, and impact on the environment have amplified the weaknesses in current city management practices and the need to introduce new technologies in the form of Smart Cities and 5G networks. Governments, academic institutions, and companies have teamed up to address this need. A prominent example is the creation and funding of ENCQOR — an ecosystem-wide initiative with participation from the Canadian, Quebec, and Ontario governments as well as several private companies including Ericsson, Thales, IBM, and Ciena (Welcome — ENCQOR). ENCQOR has launched several 5G/Smart City projects, including projects with the City of Toronto/Quayside (City of Toronto — Quayside 5G Demonstration — YouTube) and the Autonomous Vehicle Organization (AVO) (AVO on the ENCQOR 5G testbed — YouTube).
The single largest area of smart city development is in transportation. Traffic management systems are being implemented that deploy IoT sensors inside pavement and on street lights to constantly monitor traffic flows, allowing for real-time adjustments of traffic lights and other traffic flow control systems. This not only improves traffic flow and reduces transportation times but cuts down on idling and CO2 emissions by as much as 40%–50%. The ability to connect to autonomous vehicles will further contribute to the benefits of a 5G city.
Public safety and security systems will also be enhanced. Real-time video recordings and analytics will allow early recognition of accidents or dangerous events, meaning faster response times and dissemination of relevant information.
Things that we take for granted will also benefit. A Globe and Mail article cited the example of how cities can save money with “smart lighting systems that dim and brighten street lights as needed could save Yellowknife alone $150,000 a year and Kingston, Ont. up to $930,000, to name just two examples.”
Telemedicine and eldercare applications will be enabled, reducing the requirement for patient visits to hospitals and clinics, reducing medical facility congestion and providing better services.
In summary, 5G will dramatically reshape our cities in the very near future. While not without challenges and possible impediments, we should expect a very rapid deployment of new infrastructure, new applications, and new services targeted at improving the quality of city life.
The outlook is very promising, but not without challenges and impediments. Change is never easy, and moving forward will take funding, support in many forms from governments, academia, and companies, as well as a great deal of consultation with stakeholders. As a small example, the introduction of autonomous vehicles alone would require a complete reimagining of city transportation and infrastructure.
I am confident that the benefits we anticipate from 5G will make it possible for our leaders to develop and communicate the vision to move these initiatives forward.