The expansion into 5G networks offers a list of promising benefits for its end users, with faster speeds, larger capacity, and enhanced reliability for mainstream adoption of the IoT. For the widespread implementation of these networks to become a reality, they must be designed to handle increased bandwidth requirements, and power is critical. The development of 5G networks — both now and in the future — will continue to grow, and reliable power and infrastructure solutions will be crucial to help ensure the success and proliferation of widespread 5G network capability.

5G is expected to deliver greater bandwidth and speed with less latency than 4G, making it an ideal choice for developing technologies, such as the latest IoT devices and AI applications that require fast, seamless data transfers. Years into its introduction, however, fewer than 50% of wireless customers have access to 5G networks despite the fact that most mobile devices sold today tout the capability to operate upon it. Widespread deployment in many countries has, unfortunately, been delayed by slower-than-anticipated infrastructure upgrades, economic slowdowns, political challenges, and logistical concerns, such as large distances that require the installation of more small cells to facilitate 5G’s smaller wavelengths.

5G, however, has the potential to become an integral part of how many industries embrace digital transformation. How the networks will expand in the future, and the power considerations that come along with widespread deployments, must be addressed to enable large-scale adoption.

Mission critical 5G applications

Mission criticality is defined as any essential service needed for normal operations, and that is, of course, subjective depending on the application. 5G reliability, for example, is more critical to a surgeon in the middle of a remote operation as opposed to, say, a consumer buying paper towels online. In many industries, mission critical equates to the need for constant communication in instances where human life, business continuity, or financial stability are at risk.

For instance, emergency responders use 5G to ensure instant, fast, and reliable communication in life-and-death situations. In mining operations, latency in underground communications can mean a catastrophe in the event of a fire or tunnel collapse.

In retail or financial services applications, loss of power or data transmission capability can wipe out transactional information, resulting in a financial disaster. While a consumer buying paper towels online may only lose a few dollars, banks conducting transactions worth millions of dollars simply cannot afford the potential loss of trust and financial liability from network breakdowns. In the entertainment industry, time is money. During the Super Bowl, for example, a two-minute power outage can result in millions lost on commercial advertisements due to a drop in viewership.

At the end of the day, reliability is important to everyone regardless of the industry they are in, and organizations and telecommunications providers must work toward the goal of maintaining mission criticality in the 5G network to prevent interruptions while ensuring that critical data can be collected and transferred quickly and securely.

Power considerations

5G may not be a one-size-fits-all solution for all applications. For some applications, traditional Wi-Fi technology for communications and internet connections makes more sense because it can be less expensive and requires only a router and a modem to form a locally accessible network. However, to utilize 5G, a cellular connection and a device that supports the technology is required. In larger buildings — think corporate headquarters or hospitals — fast, secure communication and data transfer with low latency is desired or required and, therefore, more consistent coverage is needed.

The advantages of utilizing 5G in these applications cannot be overlooked. In California, The Palo Alto VA Medical Center recently became the first completely 5G-enabled hospital in the country, allowing the facility to move huge amounts of data and introduce new patient technologies, such as projecting MRI or X-ray images onto a patient’s body as part of pre-surgical planning.

5G private networks are being considered as a smart investment for these applications. Private networks were not a viable consideration in the past, largely because 4G didn’t have the bandwidth to handle the vast amounts of data being transferred at the speeds required.

5G currently works best in areas with high population and building density, where demand is greatest and there are ample places to install small cell antennae, as opposed to rural areas that usually rely on macro cells for widespread coverage. To cut down on 5G infrastructure costs, some wireless carriers have opted to repurpose existing infrastructure as mesh networks that integrate both macro and small cells and provide an overlap of coverage as adoption grows.

To help ensure mission criticality, layers of backup power will be needed, especially for potentially life-supporting applications, like hospitals, that rely on private networks. These organizations typically depend on backup options, such as batteries, diesel generators, and reserve fuel supplies, to ensure redundancy in the event of an outage.

Power density must also be considered, and the ability to store unused energy will be critical, depending on the application and other factors, like space limitations. Mining tunnels, for instance, have smaller spaces than large cargo ports and, therefore, need much more power density with smaller infrastructure closer to each other. In addition, power supply efficiency can be a huge cost-savings factor. In large organizations, such as smart factories, where a vast amount of power is consumed, an improvement of 1% or 2% in efficiency can mean significant cost savings.

The future of mission critical 5G applications

Consumer applications will continue to evolve and be supported by 5G in the future, as will smart cities, ports, and automated factories. Fully automated factories and dark warehouses with robotics and autonomous vehicles that can guide themselves and prevent accidents will all rely on 5G to support immense amounts of data transfer with low latency for split-second decisions and high performance.

5G networks, which are improving the logistics industry in general, are driving modernized, state-of-the-art port operations that include cranes that track the progress of cargo in real time as it’s being loaded or unloaded. 5G provides advanced mission critical voice and data services that allow port operators to deploy a single network to connect workers and automate tasks across all port-related operations.

Autonomous vehicles will rely on smart highways to control traffic and make travel safer and more efficient. Governments will use 5G applications to monitor municipality fleets and police departments. Autonomous farming will employ robotic machinery to keep fields watered and optimize crop harvesting. Smart factories and warehouses will rely on robots that will make seamless and fast decisions that affect manufacturing and logistics. And smart factories driven by 5G technology will feature instantaneous communication and data transfer, which can significantly enhance productivity, efficiency, and overall operational capabilities.

The success of all of these applications will depend on reliable infrastructure and backup power systems to ensure consistency.

5G success

In the end, large-scale adoptability of 5G networks will depend on return-on-investment justification and infrastructure upgrades — some of which are still in the infancy stages, especially in remote areas. Governments, businesses, and utility systems will need to work together to educate the public and stakeholders about the benefits of 5G adoption and collaborate with business partners that can provide the power supplies, backup systems, and transmission capability needed to keep these systems and applications up and running.