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The 5G tactile internet is here. What next?

Powered by ultra-low-latency 5G, the tactile internet will be force for change in coming years – enabling Industry 4.0, driving change in our personal lives. In this blog post, we explore a range of exciting upcoming tactile internet use cases.

Communications Director CTO office

man with glove in hand

Communications Director CTO office

Communications Director CTO office

April 3rd, 2019 was a landmark day for 5G. US-based Verizon joined service providers in South Korea in switching on commercial 5G for the first time. With this launch, the stage has been set for 5G to disrupt a plethora of industry verticals quite drastically in coming years. How? 5G is not just another incremental update of a mobile communication generations, but rather an enabler for a new industrial age – industry 4.0. One such disruption, or rather a paradigm shift as I call it, will be the 5G tactile internet.

5G tactile internet applications

With 5G's URLLC (Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication), it will soon be possible to have round-trip latency in the millisecond range. This will enable the creation of real-time interactive systems – capable of delivering physically tactile experiences remotely. Round-trip sub-millisecond latency, together with 5G's carrier-grade reliability and availability, will open a new wave of 5G tactile internet applications. Such applications will increasingly enable human-machine interaction, based on haptic or tactile communication. In other words, a sense of touch can be transported to the other side of the world in real-time.

Tactile internet will usher a new wave of haptic applications, the impact of which would be much bigger and wider than the emergence of Mobile Broadband (MBB) more than 10 years ago. Today's internet works on the principle of transferring content to the user. With the 5G tactile internet, control of real or virtual objects can take place at the real-time speeds, enabling an ecosystem whereby human skills can be delivered without boundaries, thereby creating a new internet of skills. With the 5G tactile internet, people no longer need to be within physical proximity of the systems they operate, but could control them remotely – creating a new generation of cyber-physical systems.

What's required for 5G tactile internet?

The most important technological requirement required for 5G tactile internet is the ultra-low latency criteria. If the response time of a system is low enough, the end user experience would be similar irrespective of whether the system is operated locally or remotely. In addition, haptic encoders/decoders, sensors and actuators will form a key part of 5G tactile internet infrastructure. They will be used to transmit, process and capturing of audio, video and haptic information.

Edge cloud computing enabled by content caching will allow the efficient processing of large volume of 3D video, audio and haptic information captured by many devices and sensors near the users. Artificial intelligence capabilities at the edge cloud will process the latency critical applications faster than those requests with less latency criticality.

Examples of industry and application

5G tactile internet will enable a plethora of new applications, products and services. Some of the more important ones are:

  1. Healthcare: Remote diagnosis, treatment, surgery are not only the marketing jargons used for 5G promotions but can actually become a reality within a few years. High-precision surgeries performed by experienced surgeons with robotic assistance will reduce the need to travel to far-away medical facilities in different cities/countries. Critics often attack this use case as too futuristic, but it should be a reality within next five years. In fact, Ericsson has already trialed this kind of remote healthcare in collaboration with London King's College back in 2017.
    Devices known as exoskeletons are being developed by companies across the world having tactile latency to support people with disabilities and the elderly to walk
  2. Business communication: The immediate impact of 5G tactile internet will be in the way we communicate in our business environments. Presently, geographically separate teams work via audio/video teleconferences. Teleporting oneself at any business location along with haptic interactions will be the norm for business meetings in the next decade
  3. E-commerce 4.0: Online shopping is one of the industries which can benefit greatly from 5G tactile internet. Can you imagine touching a piece of cloth before ordering online, or virtually trying a blazer to check the fitting?
  4. Industry, robotics and manufacturing: Smart factories, assembly lines, industry automation and remote industrial operation are some of the use cases which tactile internet will enable for industrial operations. Maintenance and repair in remote areas, high risk and precision mining are some of critical application all requiring tactile latencies for their operations

What's in store for vendors and operators?

The 5G tactile internet will bring new opportunities for operators as well as vendors as most of early applications would be business-to-business (B2B) which would directly impact their top-line growth. Healthcare, mining, autonomous vehicles etc. which are not traditional markets for operators and vendors would drive new business opportunities for telecom players. Mining, as previously mentioned, is one such industry which is generally considered risky owing to a challenging operational environment. The 5G tactile internet can provide a safer and more secure working environment for miners by enabling remote control of applications with multiple feedback sources (audio, video, haptic), smart ventilation and process automation at mining sites.

Tactile internet and the consumer

More consumer opportunities will arise as the application ecosystem becomes mature and the use of technologies become widespread. Of course, once the technological roadblocks for delivering skills through the internet are resolved, vendors/operators will play a big role in standardization initiatives and defining the roadmap for tactile internet applications.

In today's world, human-machine interaction is a norm rather than exception. These interactions are bound to grow across consumer markets in coming years as haptic communication technologies and artificial intelligence capabilities grow. There will be a sea-change effect in the way future classrooms, hospitals, business environments and factories deliver their services with the remote delivery of skill sets. One such business case, the internet of skills, has potential to be a driving force for innovation!

Read more about the tactile internet and other future trends on our future technologies page and in our 2019 consumer trends report.

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