Blog · 03 Feb 2022

How 5G’s set to revolutionise the digital world

The future of the digital world is 5G. So how will this technology shape the applications and services of tomorrow?

Maria Cuevas
Mobility Research Theme Principal, BT

The future of connectivity is one where customers enjoy a seamless user experience, no matter how many applications and devices are consuming bandwidth.

Right now, 5G is forging its way across the world; rapidly evolving from proof of concept to fully operational use cases. But just because 5G’s here, doesn’t mean we’re saying goodbye to 4G. Or that 5G is going to replace wi-fi. While 5G offers sophisticated and flexible services that are super reliable with ultra-low latency and greater capacity, wi-fi is less expensive, easier to deploy and more widely supported.

Essentially, there’s room for multiple types of access in the world, with 5G working with wi-fi, 4G or satellite technology in the future. Here are just some of the exciting projects that 5G could bring to life.

Meet my hologram

Holography is nothing new, but until the advent of 5G the potential of holographic communications has been restricted to the realms of science fiction and R&D labs.

This is because delivering a hologram to wearable devices is just one part of holographic communications. Uploading content from the capture device is another important piece of the puzzle, as well as the processing power needed to create a hologram from different camera views. That’s where volumetric video comes in. A volumetric video rig captures a person or scene from multiple angles in ultra-high resolution. The resulting real-time 3D video can be viewed from any angle, so it sets up the potential for life-like holograms and even the dream of a fully immersive experience. But while video compression is being worked on, combining multiple inputs and accesses like this needs huge bandwidth capacity. It also needs super low latency to create a great user experience. That’s why 5G could be pivotal in making holographic communications a reality.

Moving through virtual realities: the metaverse

The metaverse is an all-encompassing virtual world where people can move through various realities with a single identity. In the same way you might walk down the street and enter different shops, the metaverse is the street, while the various shops are different virtual worlds like Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox.

At the moment, you only get to visit digital and virtual worlds when you go to them via the internet. It’s a shared space where people are represented by digital avatars. But the idea with the metaverse is that it’ll be all around you and part of our day-to-day lives. It’ll evolve to be somewhere that people can enter virtually - via virtual reality - or interact with sections of it in their physical environment, thanks to augmented and mixed reality. Imagine being stuck inside on a rainy day. The metaverse could enable you to virtually visit a museum without leaving the house. You could pass an ancient artefact, restore it to its former glory and even download a virtual souvenir to put in your virtual home.

It’s a bold vision of the future with user experience at the heart of it. Alternate digital worlds where people can collaborate, socialise, play and work. Early initiations will be focused on virtual reality use cases, but the aim is to enable augmented mobile experiences. The volume of content in the metaverse is what creates more demand on bandwidth and what 5G will need to cater for.

Wake up and smell the coffee

Imagine waking up to the smell of your favourite coffee brewing away rather than the monotonous ringing of your alarm. The internet of senses could make that possible.

While audio and visual virtual reality has progressed rapidly, the senses of smell and touch have been slower to take off. But much of the technology that will make the internet of senses possible already exists – Artificial Intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality and automation. For example, haptic gloves are bringing virtual touch to life with more life-like force feedback, while clever use of ultrasonics is giving users virtual spatial awareness – the ability to feel the presence of objects around you. Experiences like this represent a whole new era of immersion which 5G is going to help enable them.

Computer vision: a better understanding of the world around us

Computer vision sits in the world of AI. AI is designed to help computers to think; whereas computer vision is about enabling computers to see, observe and understand. It lets computers get meaningful data from digital images, videos and other visual inputs so they can take action or make recommendations.

For example, a motorway CCTV camera with computer vision wouldn’t just record what was happening on the road, it could also identify car registration numbers and recommend actions based on these.

But systems need to be trained to do this using cameras, data and algorithms on the edge or in the cloud. And offloading all that video footage requires a lot of upload capacity, so significant bandwidth and low latency are vital. That’s why, once again, 5G becomes the platform needed to enable this to become more than localised pockets of activity.

The security / privacy considerations

While 5G is set to enable these exciting future realities, privacy and security need to be key considerations, included by design. As we innovate at BT – particularly around data – we need to think about how that data could be abused in the future. We’re in a unique position to shape the future of connectivity, by leveraging our 5G investment and best network advantage. And that consideration is at the heart of all of our 5G plans, investments and innovations.

Is there already a future beyond 5G?

And what about 6G? There’s no doubt it will be here eventually, but at BT we’re not sitting around waiting for that. We’re continually investing in our networks to improve them. That way, when 6G comes along, it’ll be just another step in our connectivity evolution.

To find out how we can help support your move to next generation connectivity, please get in touch.