Connectivity is all about faster, better and increased data transfer between endpoints. The race for wireless connections, beginning in 1979 with the first 1G technology in Tokyo deployed 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, which includes 5G, 6G, low-Earth-orbit satellites and other technologies, is driving growth and productivity across industries with an investment of $166 billion in 2021. Unlike other new technologies like 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 significant catalyst for implementing 5G globally.
With the power to transform industries faster, with greater capacity and less latency, 5G tech will impact transportation, banking systems, traffic control, remote healthcare, agriculture, digitized logistics and more, Market Research Future says.
New technologies like 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 increased data communications in real-time. 5G and 6G are expected to boost these new trends.
Market Research and Future explains that the deployment of 5G does not come without challenges. The standardization of spectrum and the complexity in 5G network installation are the most prominent. MIT Tech Review adds that 6G will also face challenges and require cross-disciplinary innovation, new chips, new devices and software.
The technology challenges of the 5G and 6G
The next generation of cellular technologies offering higher-spectrum efficiency and high bandwidth have seen their share of debate. As McKinsey explains, many still wonder if 5G can completely replace the 4G LTE network and what percentage of networks will have 5G.
The Global Mobile Suppliers Association by May 2022, had identified 493 operators in 150 countries investing in 5G technology and an additional 200 companies that had technology that could potentially be used for 5G. New announcements for smartphones with 5G rose by 164% by the end of 2020, and cataloged 5G devices increased by 60%.
While new consumer products have rapidly adapted to 5G capabilities, industrial and business devices have not.
“Shifting from 4G LTE to private 5G may not be cost-effective for all players; this would depend on a player’s technological aspirations and planned use cases,” McKinsey said.
Market Research Future explains that $61.4 billion are driving this very competitive market, expected to reach $689.6 billion by 2027. But, infrastructure equipment, devices and software providers have been restraining growth.
MIT explains that 6G shares similar challenges with 5G but also presents new challenges. 6G engineers must work on infrastructure, devices and software to build the next-generation communication systems. 6G connectivity can not be done by simply scaling or updating today’s technology.
MIT adds that 6G uses more sophisticated active-antenna systems, which integrate further using other Radio Access Technologies such as WLAN (wireless local area network), Bluetooth, UWB (ultra-wideband) and satellite. Fitting all this tech into a smartphone requires reimagining components like chips and radio transceiver technology.
“This will require very creative electrical and computer engineering as well as disruptive industrial engineering and power management,” MIT explained.
New 6G chips are essential to process the increased computing power. Low latency—the capacity to process a very high volume of data messages with minimal delay—is already a challenge for 5G and will be even more defiant with 6G tech.
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 will be reduced by using nearby devices, creating a signal on a 3-dimensional network.
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 enhance the network.
McKinsey stresses that 5G has proven that only a few telecommunications companies have been able to monetize from 5G enough to get a good return on investment (ROI). Therefore, capital expenditures and maintenance costs will also be closely watched. Additionally, large capital investments are required to build new technology and networks, representing another business challenge.
Driving connectivity: The industrial disruption
In its Dresden plant in Germany, Volkswagen replaced wired connections between machinery and now updates finished cars with over-the-air updates and connects unmanned vehicles with 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 end-points and synchronizing robotics with human factory workers. These are just some 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 the global GDP (gross domestic product) by more than $2 trillion. Additionally, 5G and 6G are expected to contribute to closing the digital divide allowing hundreds of millions of people to be connected for the first time.
In automotive and assembly, 5G and 6G are used to enhance maintenance and navigation, prevent collisions and drive the first fleets of autonomous vehicles. Healthcare devices and sensors connected to low-latency networks will improve patient treatment and monitoring with real-time data, significantly impacting treatment for patients with chronic disease that require constant checks.
Aerospace and defense are using 5G to boost their capacity and performance, while retail has improved inventory management, supply chain coordination and payment process and has created metaverse experiences thanks to the technology. The construction and building industry is printing 3D structures and using high-speed digital twins and applications, and the mining and natural resources sector is turning to smart exploration and exploitation with the digitalization of practices and automation of operations.
Leaders from almost every industry are considering engaging with new connectivity technologies. McKinsey says they should consider advanced connectivity a key enabler of revolutionary capabilities. From digital transformations to driving efficiency through automation and enabling technologies reliant on high-quality connectivity, such as cloud computing and IoT, connectivity will continue to drive the way the world works and lives.