5G developments in 2021: OpenRAN, gigabit downloads and a close shave

From robotics to oncology to environmental data-gathering, 5G-enabled use cases continue to gather pace around the world. Despite the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, 5G rollouts have carried on surprisingly steadily, with different industries and territories making inroads into providing the next generation of mobile connectivity solutions to businesses and individuals. What’s the latest in 5G developments?

The past few months have seen exciting developments in 5G in various places around the world. The GSA reported that 5G subscriptions grew by 36% in the first quarter of 2021, reaching just over 298 million globally, or around 3% of the entire global mobile market. The GSA also released its forecast that from 2023, the 4G LTE market will start to decline as customers migrate to 5G. By the end of 2026, 5G will account for 41% of the global market, at 4.62 billion subscriptions.

Also, according to the GSA, investment in 5G is ramping up: 443 operators in 133 countries or territories have now invested in 5G mobile or 5G fixed wireless access (FWA)/home broadband networks.

And significant progress is being made with 5G evolution. In Lannion, France, Orange has developed an end-to-end 5G cloud network. The experimental network will be 100% software-enabled, data and AI-driven, fully automated and cloud native. Crucially, it will also encompass Open RAN technology.

Societal challenges

Despite it still being relatively early days for 5G, it has already made plenty of headlines. The COVID-19 pandemic saw 5G cell towers being (incorrectly) blamed for the spread of the virus, and the industry had to do plenty of PR firefighting to get the true story out there.

With that in mind, Orange commissioned research by Omdia to investigate the social, economic and environmental impacts that 5G technology could have in selected European countries in the coming decade. The study complements Orange’s Engage 2025 commitment to sustainability and its determination to continue building networks and services that have a positive impact on society. Orange believes that 5G shouldn’t only empower end users and businesses but should also support economic development in the workplace and help companies achieve net-zero goals.

The survey findings predict a largely positive impact of 5G across France, Spain, Poland, Romania and Belgium, with a combined economic output increase of €407 billion by 2030 thanks to 5G technologies. 5G will result in over one million jobs being created across the group, and in environmental terms, 5G technologies will reduce CO2 emissions by 33 million tons.

Use cases growing all the time

5G use cases are growing rapidly, and it seems clear that 5G deployments will continue to grow as demand for bandwidth continues and new mobile applications are invented all the time. The GSMA estimates that 5G will account for 20% of global connections by 2025, with take-up particularly strong in North America and Europe, while Informa reports that 5G could be responsible for 22 million jobs and $13 trillion of global economic output by 2035.

Remote use cases are an example that have come into their own during the COVID-19 lockdown. In May 2021, the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine at USC became one of the first medical facilities in the U.S. to use 5G to help advance cancer research. The project, powered by 5G connectivity, creates an immersive experience for patients, visitors, clinicians and students. The higher speeds and bandwidth offered by 5G are enabling 3D tumor imaging, for example, while edge computing is enabling faster capture and analysis of data at point of origin without it having to travel to a remote data center for analysis.

Meanwhile in South Korea, robots are being used to collect urban air quality information for analysis and corrective action. And in the UK, robot arms are shaving Hollywood actors. EE demonstrated how a barber in London could control a robotic arm half-way up a mountain 250 miles away. The lucky man was Tom Ellis of Lucifer fame.

Powering next-generation ports

5G is set to play a big role in the transformation of ports into smart ports, with 5G enabling IoT and data analytics to improve operational processes, safety and emissions. In March 2021, Orange launched a new 5G network at the Port of Le Havre, France’s leading container port for foreign trade. The new network will revolutionize operations at the port, with use cases set to be introduced around smart cruises that optimize the flow management of people and goods, self-driving vehicles and incident detection by drones. The network will prepare Port of Le Havre for the challenges of Industry 4.0 and more.

Enabling Industry 4.0

Orange has been working towards 5G use cases that enable Industry 4.0 for companies. At Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2021, Orange demonstrated the capabilities of a 5G SA (standalone) network in which low latency powers new use cases. As traffic increases in smart factory networks, a 5G network, augmented by network slicing, can ensure that applications suffer no degradation in performance and keep delivering value. For example, at MWC Orange demonstrated that robots in an Industry 4.0 environment can benefit from 5G network slices, ensuring no negative effects from congestion and optimum performance.

5G and network slicing will also be driving change in the Schneider Electric factory in France thanks to a co-innovation partnership between Orange and Nokia. It’s the first-ever Industry 4.0 4G/5G private network supported by network slicing in a French factory and will enable new, state-of-the-art efficiencies and Industry 4.0 use cases for Schneider moving forward.

Read about Orange Group’s latest activities in 5G, including use of the 26 GHz band. This millimeter waveband could offer 4 Gb/s downlink and uplink around 250 Mb/s. Orange has demonstrated reduced latency for Industry 4.0 applications; announced Europe’s first end-to-end 5G SA, fully end-to-end experimental cloud network; implemented private 5G with network slicing at Schneider Electric; and is working with the port at Le Havre on 5G use cases, including ship management, industrial and logistical needs and port surveillance.

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.